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The USMNT’s European November Features Big Tests


With US qualification to the World Cup secure, the USSF has scheduled two interesting friendlies for the international break in November. The US was relatively impressive in CONCACAF qualifying, recording improbable wins at Port of Spain against Trinidad & Tobago as well as in San Pedro Sula versus Honduras, and also knocking Costa Rica out of the World Cup with a great come from behind result at RFK Stadium earlier this month.

But that was against CONCACAF opposition. While friendlies aren’t always the best judge of who performs well in World Cups, they are often times more accurate judges than even qualifying itself. When you consider that the US has achieved just two results (one win and one draw) in its eleven meetings versus European nations since returning to the World Cup in 1990, these two matches could be very important.

On paper, Slovakia is the easier match. But having qualified for its first ever World Cup since splitting from the Czech Republic in 1993, (Slovakia was technically independent as a Nazi puppet state during World War II, but it was never recognized as such by the US, or UK) the Slovaks are riding a wave of national pride in its football accomplishments.

Nonetheless, Slovakia lost earlier this month to Slovenia, but was still able to hold off the former Yugoslav Republic for the top spot and automatic qualification in UEFA Group 3. While Slovakia has some quality, this will be a chance for the European based players in the US pool who are sure to get the call for this match to make a statement.

No doubt, however the tougher game will be against Denmark. I’ve often stated that when the Danes have a good side, they are really good and when they struggle, they are eminently beatable (as they were when rebuilding during the 2006 and 2008 qualifying cycles). Right now, the Danes fit into the former category.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Denmark was among the most entertaining and competitive sides on the planet, winning both the European Championships and the Confederations Cup.  These sides included Brian Laudrup, who in my mind was the most skilled attacking midfielder on the planet not named Zidane, in the 1990s. His older brother Michael was more successful at the club level and equally skilled but from my vantage point did not have the flair of Brian. (Both were great players, I just preferred the younger Laudrup to the older one) But following a quarterfinal run in the 1998 World Cup, the Danes started to struggle and despite qualifying for Euro 2000, they made little impact.

Enter Morton Olsen, former great player from Denmark’s outstanding teams of the 1980s. Olsen was able to hold together an aging side which advanced to the knock out stages of the 2002 World Cup and 2004 European Championships, and then rebuild to qualify atop Europe’s Group of Death for the 2010 World Cup.

The Danes, in my opinion are a very dangerous team that could advance deep at next summer’s World Cup. This aggressive scheduling by Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley must be commended. Ultimately, the match in Denmark will tell us a great deal about where the US must improve heading into a World Cup year.

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  1. Kyle

    October 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    “I know one is supposed to concentrate on one’s own situation and not that of others, but I can’t help but worry as Mexico has announced more and far better matches in preparation: England, the Netherlands and possibly also either Germany or Italy.”

    I don’t think the quality of opposition in a couple of friendlys is going to have much of an impact on our success in the world cup. I also don’t really think it’s important what Mexico chooses to do. It’s highly unlikely that the US and Mexico will be in the same group.

  2. Charles

    October 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Loved the article and comments. Thanks.

    Not to change the subject, I logged on hoping that there would be posts regarding the most important thing happening today in American soccer.

    I guess that is why soccer will be lucky to make it outside of Seattle area.
    But 36,000+ of us will be there tonight, with many more at home jealous…
    Go Sounders.

  3. Robert

    October 29, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Here is the key word: “Friendly”. This is not going to prepare us for the world cup and the players are going to have to develop with their clubs in order for us to have a chance in 2010. For those that are in Europe that are not getting playing time maybe they can come back to the States and get some much needed playing time.

  4. Mike

    October 29, 2009 at 11:17 am

    I know one is supposed to concentrate on one’s own situation and not that of others, but I can’t help but worry as Mexico has announced more and far better matches in preparation: England, the Netherlands and possibly also either Germany or Italy.

    I don’t think Mexico is the better team than the U.S., but I would feel better if we could get another top level friendly lined up for ourselves before the W.C.

  5. TG

    October 29, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Hey look, more American stupidity. The omnipresent “I’m (ignorant and) have never heard of it, ergo it sucks” logic with US Soccer fans.

    Funny, because I heard similar things about the Czech Republic in ’06.

    • kevin_amold

      October 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm

      Well, I guess it’s true that a side can explode into international relevance from obscurity, it seems to rarely happen. Slovakia and Slovenia haven’t really proven in competition (EURO, former WC) that they are formidable powers until this qualification cycle. I’m sure they are quality sides, but is it wrong to adopt a wait and see approach to these teams? Maybe there’s a reason few people outside of Europe have heard of these sides. Time will tell.

      As for the Czechs in 06, I’m not sure who you were talking to, because all I heard was how high the Czechs were ranked and how good they were. No one I knew expected an easy victory, so let’s just cool it with the American Stupidity remarks…

      • Roger

        October 29, 2009 at 3:03 pm

        The group Slovakia qualified from included Slovenia, Poland, Northern Ireland, the Czech Republic, and San Marino.

        That group would be at worst a 28 pointer for the US with us winning nine games and drawing once on the road. We beat Poland 3-0 on the road two years ago.

        Slovenia and Northern Ireland both would be pushovers. The Czech’s haven’t been good the last few years and San Marino, is a joke.

        Europe is so over rated.

        What the heck is Denmark either? We beat them 3-1 a few years ago and they won a group that included Sweden who we’ve beaten two years running, Portugal who we beat in the 02 World Cup and Hungary, a country that would struggle in CONCACAF.

        The US and Mexico both would have won almost every group in UEFA.

        I don’t know why everyone thinks European qualifying is so difficult. Serbia won a group for god’s sake! Serbia! Bosnia finished second in a group. We’d wipe the floor with Bosnia.

        The eurosnobs say these teams are so good, but half of them are new countries no one has heard of, and the other half are over rated nations that only win at home in qualifying.

  6. Robert

    October 29, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I agree with TR people need to get off of Europe’s nuts. Did anyone look at some of the groups in UEFA? I didn’t know some of those countries existed!

  7. TR

    October 29, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I find it hard to believe anyone would consider Slovakia a tough match. Look at how weak UEFA qualifying is. If you end up in the right group, you qualify. Slovenia, finished second. Who the heck is Slovenia?

    Seriously, I read Eric say that Scotland made five straight World Cups at one point from UEFA. I can guarentee they would never have had that sort of run in CONCACAF. Slovakia may not have even made the Hex this time in CONCACAF.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      October 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm

      The Scottish teams of the late 70s and early 80s, likely would have dominated CONCACAF. The decline began in 1985 with the shocking death of the legendary Jock Stein (who made Celtic FC a European power before making Scotland a world power) after a win over Wales in qualifying. His assistant, Alex Ferguson steered the team to the World Cup, but Fergie left after Mexico 86 and the Scots have hardly been the same since.

  8. pete20

    October 29, 2009 at 8:42 am

    i really like these tests. both opponents are better than us imo, but we’re still close enough in skill for a competitive and preparative match.

  9. Ray

    October 29, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Aggressive scheduling no doubt, but it is possible Denmark and Slovakia after much tougher qualifying hauls than we had will be experimenting.

    That’s what happened when we played Poland before the Euros and we thought by beating them 3-0 we were world beaters. Same with Austria in 1998.

  10. Todd

    October 29, 2009 at 7:40 am

    uh…. if wins away against T&T are “improbable” then we should be really worried.

    • kevin_amold

      October 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm

      Yeah. San Pedro Sula was certainly improbable though.

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