Soccer: Last chance for World Cup hopefuls to impress coach

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AMSTERDAM (AP) — American players hoping to make an impression on U.S. coach Bob Bradley before he picks his World Cup roster have one last chance Wednesday night.

In its final match before the World Cup team gathers in mid-May, the United States plays an exhibition at the Netherlands, the world’s third-ranked team.

“My last memory playing Netherlands in Amsterdam Arena was not the best,” midfielder Landon Donovan said. “I think we chased the ball for probably 90 minutes, so it’s hopefully a little different this time. Hopefully, we have a little more of the game. It’s really our last chance against a top, top, team before the World Cup and so we want to make the most of it.”

The Netherlands is 3-0 against the No. 14 U.S., winning 2-0 in Miami in 1998, 2-0 at Foxborough, Mass., in 2002 and 1-0 in Amsterdam in 2004.

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Donovan, enjoying a successful loan stint with Everton, is assured of a spot on the final 23. Others, such as Glasgow Rangers midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu, might need good matches to earn their trips to South Africa.

“You feel that the World Cup is coming. It’s real,” U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “Amsterdam Arena is cool venue to play in. So, it should be a good atmosphere, you know, another good test before we go down to South Africa.”

Sixteen of the 20 players on the U.S. roster are based in Europe, with just three players from Major League Soccer and one from Mexico.

“It’s a good opportunity to play against a real good team, size ourselves up one more time and know that in a few months when we come together again it’s with everything right in front of us,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.

The U.S. is missing AC Milan defender Oguchi Onyewu (Oct. 21 surgery to repair ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee); Hannover defender Steve Cherundolo (injured a shoulder in practice Jan. 31); Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey (injured right knee on Jan. 17); Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Ricardo Clark (pulled right calf muscle); Aarhus midfielder Benny Feilhaber (damaged ankle cartilage); and Sochaux forward Charlie Davies (recovering from injuries sustained in Oct. 13 car crash).

Jozy Altidore figures to start at forward, with Michael Bradley — the coach’s son — joined in the central midfield by Edu. Stuart Holden or Beasley could get a start in midfield along with Donovan.

“It’s a good way to gauge where we’re at, a good way for Bob to gauge where the team is at and also in the bigger scheme to make some assessments on how guys are going to be and help make choices for the World Cup,” Donovan said.

The Dutch and Spain were the only teams in European qualifying with perfect records — the Netherlands was 8-0 and outscored opponents 17-2 in coasting to first place in Group Nine.

Even with Robin van Persie still sidelined after tearing ankle ligaments in November, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk could start Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt up front in a stiff test for the U.S. defensive line and goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Getting ready for its World Cup opener against England on June 12, the U.S. is looking to boost its confidence.

“I think a good performance will go a long way,” Howard said.

Nigel de Jong is set to partner with Mark van Bommel, the coach’s son-in-law, in midfield along with Wesley Sneijder. Wingers Eljero Elia or Ryan Babel also are potential starters.

“What you see is a top team with great players,” Bob Bradley said. “So you’re challenged by the technical ability that they have. You’re challenged by the speed that the game will get played, the way they press, the way they move the ball, the way they run off the ball. So it just gives you a chance to play in a game where the bar is real high in terms of just reactions and executing plays. It’s good for us.”

After this, the Americans gather in mid-May and play exhibitions against the Czech Republic (May 25, possibly in East Hartford, Conn.) and Turkey (May 29 at Philadelphia), with a June 5 exhibition against Australia in Johannesburg also possible. After playing England, the U.S. meets Slovenia on June 18 before finishing the first round five days later against Algeria.

“Obviously we’re still missing a few guys through injury, but I think this is a big test for us,” Donovan said. “And we’re going to take advantage of it.”

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