Michael Bradley relishes Italy test for the US
MILAN – Michael Bradley knows from experience just how tough a test the U.S. faces when it plays Italy on Wednesday.
But that's exactly what the Americans are looking for in this exhibition game leading to the start of World Cup qualifying in June.
"It will be a very difficult game for us," said Bradley, a midfielder who plays in Italy with Chievo Verona. "Italy has a squad that's full of champions and for us it will be a good test."
The U.S. doesn't seem interested in easy victories ahead of its opening qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda. Instead, it wants games that will provide a more realistic picture of the team. After Italy, the Americans host Scotland and Brazil in May.
The Americans know they can't match Italy for star power.
"We are a real team. Every player plays for his teammates and we have a strong mentality," Bradley said. "That helps us forward in difficult times."
The U.S. is on a three-match winning streak but this is the first time coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be able to call on his top players since November's 3-2 victory over Slovenia. It defeated Venezuela and Panama while playing with a backup squad.
The U.S., however, will be without Landon Donovan for the game in Genoa. He withdrew Sunday because he is ill and will miss the chance to play together with Clint Dempsey for the first time since Klinsmann was hired as coach last summer. Also out is Jermaine Jones with a strained right calf.
The two have been replaced by Sasha Kljestan and Brek Shea.
Klinsmann has had a mixed start as U.S. coach with four wins, four losses and a draw. But Bradley believes the players can take huge leaps forward under the former German star.
"He was a great footballer, he played for Inter Milan, he won the World Cup, and now he's looking to transfer that winning mentality to our team," Bradley said.
Italy will nevertheless be expected to win, although coach Cesare Prandelli is likely to experiment with his lineup.
Top forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano are still out with long-term injuries, and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli has been left of the squad because of his hot temper and unpredictability. Prandelli is even considering omitting Balotelli from his team at this summer's European Championship.
"He still seems a little agitated to me," Prandelli said. "When I say we have to reach the European Championships prepared, I mean I don't want to get there with a squad who don't know how to manage tension and provocation."
Prandelli introduced a code of ethics when he took over the Italy squad after the 2010 World Cup. He said anyone who fails to live up to those standards will not make the team for the Euros.
"I don't want to see players who at the first sign of difficulty do reaction fouls and get sent off, leaving their teammates to struggle with 10 men. So we have a few months to think about it."
Antonio Di Natale — who scored his 18th league goal of the season Sunday for Udinese — could be chosen to spearhead the attack against the Americans.
"He's found an extraordinary consistency," Prandelli said. "Now I need to try to see how he can be integrated into this group."
Roma striker Fabio Borini was selected for the Italy squad for the first time.