The U.S.' latest training camp is underway ahead of next Wednesday's friendly against El Salvador. One week later, a much different side, featuring many European-based players, will meet the Netherlands in the first, if reports are to be believed, of three straight friendlies against European opposition.
After Amsterdam, warmup matches with the Czech Republic and Turkey are rumored to be on the schedule, as Bob Bradley's squad completes its preparation for South Africa on home turf. With the U.S. playing World Cup group games against two of Europe's finest, the motivation for testing itself against continental neighbors of England and Slovenia is understandable.
The absence of any pre-tournament opposition from Africa is, however, a little disconcerting (although Algeria's style of play is not wholly dissimilar to those exhibited by European nations). The last time the U.S. played a West African opponent was in the 2006 World Cup (Ghana) and you have to go all the way back to 1995 for the most "recent" friendly against a nation from that part of the world, when Nigeria provided the opposition.
Looking beyond the group stage this summer, the U.S. could face Ghana in the second round, while Nigeria is a potential quarterfinal opponent. With no warmups against like-for-like opposition and, given that nobody from U.S. Soccer was in Angola to scout the Africa Cup of Nations last month, it seems to me that a major area of the soccer world is being overlooked, to the potential detriment of the national team.
More uncertainty over key men
Another week, another batch of mixed injury news for fans of the national team. The latest to go down is Benny Feilhaber, who will miss several weeks after sustaining cartilage damage in his ankle. He joins on the sidelines the likes of Charlie Davies, Oguchi Onyewu, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark.
Fortunately, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for a number of the injured. The latest stage of Davies' remarkable recovery sees him back in France where he will continue to rehab with his club side, Sochaux. Meanwhile, Bob Bradley said this week that he expects Onyewu to return to training at the start of March, with Dempsey slated to do likewise later in the month.
Having been on the bench on Sunday, Stuart Holden could make his Bolton debut against Wigan on Wednesday night while, in Scotland, DaMarcus Beasley is back in action with Rangers, as is Maurice Edu.
Well played, midfield men
It's not all bad news for Bob Bradley when it comes to midfielders. The coach's son, Michael, is in a fine run of form for Borussia Monchengladbach, having started 15 straight Bundesliga games. A more defensive role means his goals output has dipped -- he has just two to date this season -- but what has improved is his discipline -- Bradley has committed just 24 fouls in 20 games and has been booked just once since September.
Bradley is an almost certain starter in South Africa but who lines up alongside him remains open to question. While two candidates -- Clark and Feilhaber -- rehab injuries, Josť Francisco Torres has, quietly, been playing himself back into contention as part of a Pachuca side which currently tops its Clausura group.
Torres' (lack of) size makes him a long shot to start in central midfield, given Bob Bradley's preference for physical presence in that area, but the 22-year-old could offer an intriguing alternative on the left, especially if Clint Dempsey starts up front, a move that could lead to Landon Donovan switching flanks.
Left-footedness is another asset that sets Torres apart from many of his rivals for a spot on the plane to South Africa, as anyone who saw his magnificent free-kick goal last weekend will have noted. Donovan aside, the U.S. has few proven set-piece aficionados, which is another reason why its coach should be keeping a close eye on events in Mexico.
A thing that made me go hmmm
Talking of left-sided options, after his strike on Wednesday, Freddy Adu has two goals in two games. It's too late for him to make the World Cup squad isn't it?