Monday, November 16, 2009

ATH: US v Denmark

Scouting Report: Denmark
from the US National Team Players Association

By Clemente Lisi -- The United States continues the European tour this week, playing Denmark on Wednesday in another test against a mid-tier team headed to next year’s World Cup. The US will be looking to reverse Saturday's 1-0 loss to Slovakia.

Denmark may actually be an easier opponent than Slovakia, even though they're six places higher in the FIFA Rankings. The US should be in a good position to get a result. Against Slovakia on Saturday, the US lost 1-0 after failing to create any real scoring chances. Against Denmark, the US will have little choice but to attack and play the wings more effectively if they hopes to grab a win. Long-range shots that end up securely in the opposing keeper’s arms aren’t going to cut it.

“We were not sharp enough in our attacking third,” coach Bob Bradley told reporters at a news conference following the loss to Slovakia.

Against Denmark, Bradley has the advantage of having several players who ply their club trade in northern European leagues. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins (Valerenga/Norway), defender Clarence Goodson (IK Start/Norway) and midfielder Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus/Denmark) all could figure in the Starting XI in Aarhus. They know the Scandinavian style and are used to playing in rough weather conditions, especially Feilhaber. The temperature in Aarhus is expected to be around 48 degrees and overcast.

Following the outcome of this past weekend’s MLS playoffs, Bradley will still be without Landon Donovan, but has the Houston Dynamo midfield duo of Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden at his disposal. At the same time, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey and Chad Marshall have all been released back to their clubs.

“We will likely make a few changes [against Denmark],” Bradley said. “We’ll assess how players come out of this match and the possibility of bringing additional players. This is the chance to train a little bit and test some new players.”

As for the US’s opponents, the Danes topped Europe’s Group 1 ahead of a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Sweden to reach South Africa. Denmark defeated Portugal 3-2 in Lisbon last year and played them to a 1-1 draw last May in Copenhagen.

“We didn’t make it to the last World Cup,” coach Morten Olsen told during an interview earlier this month. “In a very tough qualifying group where Portugal were the clear favorites, we managed to win the group with a game to spare. This was a first for Danish football and an outstanding achievement.”

The 60-year-old Olsen, a veteran manager who once played as a defender for the Danes and has coached them since 2000, plays a 4-3-3 formation with Dennis Rommedahl and Martin Jorgensen on the wings. At times, Olsen uses an unorthodox 4-3-2-1 with Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, who was recently named the country’s Player of the Year by the Danish FA, as a lone striker. Luckily for the US, Bendtner won’t be in the lineup after he suffered a groin injury last month against Tottenham during an English Premier League match.

Though lacking household names of the past like Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup, who famously helped Denmark win the 1992 European Championship, this current team is no pushover. There is no shortage of solid players in every position. Christian Poulsen, Thomas Kahlenberg and Jon Dahl Tomasson and are all standouts with top-level European club experience who are creative and can score goals. Many of Denmark’s finest play in Italy. Palermo defender Simon Kjaer, one of the best in the World, and Per Koldrup of Fiorentina anchor the defense. This defensive duo is one of the reasons why Denmark advanced to South Africa.

Their weaknesses, however, are many. The Danes love to move the ball quickly and their game is dominated by long crosses (easily disrupted with a solid backline). If the US can stave off their opponents early, while not conceding a goal by halftime, then there is a real chance of taking control of the match in the second half. In a World Cup Qualifier against Hungary last month, Denmark was unable to score in the first half and lost 1-0. In a friendly against South Korea on Saturday, Denmark played well, but couldn’t capitalize in what turned out to be a scoreless draw with a dull second half.

The US and Denmark have met five times (never on Danish soil) and the teams are an even 1-1-3. In their last meeting in January 2007 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, both Jonathan Bornstein and Kenny Cooper scored in their National Team debuts as the Americans cruised to a 3-1 win. The US offense will need to be similarly at its best this time around. The surest way for the US to grab a win will be to play offense and let its midfield dictate the speed and pace.

There was a time when the US needed lots of luck to get a result on European soil. Not this group. Denmark has the talent, but is a very beatable opponent.

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