In the months leading up to the World Cup, teams usually play tough competition and produce glitzy friendlies as teams try to fine-tune for the World Cup.
But the way things are shaping up, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to replicate in 2010 the lineup it will face before the start of World Cup qualifying.
Friendlies against England in Wembley (May 28) and Argentina in New York (June 8) are rumored and/or all but finalized while another game at Spain (June 4) has been confirmed. Thus, in the two weeks before the U.S. is set to start off on its long trek towards South Africa and the 2010 World Cup the reigning Gold Cup champs will face arguably three of the most prominent national teams in the world.
How's that for preparation?
Many things will happen from now until late May. Players will get injured or will be coming off injury. Some players might find their form while others might fall off of it. Still others may come from out of nowhere and force coach Bob Bradley's hand. And there will even be at least one game in between there, a March 26 friendly at Poland, another good friendly for the U.S.
But what the games against England, Spain and Argentina will accomplish - other than providing memorable moments and potentially classic games - will be to lay the groundwork for World Cup qualifying. It's possible that Bradley will use many different players for these matches, and that at the very least those who play against this murderer's row will see action on June 15 and June 22, the first two World Cup qualifying matches.
At the very least, these games are the right kinds of games the U.S. should be playing. In CONCACAF, there are two other teams worth a damn, and one of those only shows up every now and then. Mexico's credentials speak for themselves while Costa Rica can be a beast at times. Other nations have their moments but the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica are clearly above the rest of the field.
Under the previous regime, the U.S. had a record many though was impressive. But when you break down the matches and opponents, there really wasn't much worth celebrating, in particular from 2003 to 2006. Just look at the final three opponents the U.S. used as tune-up matches for Germany 2006. In Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia, the U.S. hoped to prepare for the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana. Not quite. To think that with the 1-0 win in Switzerland the U.S. equaled the number of wins Bruce Arena collected on European soil in eight years as national team coach is either miserably ridiculous or utterly pathetic.
Now, it's not as easy as Bradley being superior to his predecessor - that much has yet to be determined. It's the evolution of the U.S. national team, a step that should have happened after 2002.
Since crashing out of the 2006 World Cup, the U.S. will have competed in the Gold Cup and Copa America, qualified for the 2009 Confederations Cup and played friendlies at Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, Poland, England, Spain and hosted Mexico (twice), Sweden, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina all before the start of World Cup qualifying.
Results will soon start to take on quite a bit more significance and will ultimately show how much work there is to do before 2010 but at the very least the U.S. has put itself in as good of a position as possible up to this point.