EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. When U.S. soccer officials approached coach Bob Bradley about playing exhibitions against England, Spain and Argentina as tuneups for World Cup qualifying, he was not overly concerned.
Some games were iffy, and it seemed unlikely the national team would face three of the world's top 10 teams prior to meeting Barbados on June 15 in Carson, Calif. in Cup qualifying.
Surprise! Everything fell into place, and the U.S. will finish a brutal slate of exhibitions Sunday when it plays Argentina, FIFA's No. 1 ranked team, at Giants Stadium.
Despite a 2-0 loss in England on May 28 and a 1-0 setback in Spain on Wednesday, Bradley said the schedule has helped his team.
The game against England instructed the Americans on the tempo of the game and physical play, while Spain showed the U.S. how to move the ball quickly.
"As we prepare for Argentina, there is just a different element all together," Bradley said. "There are some unique special players who have the ability at certain moments to take advantage of the smallest little window, move quickly and create quickly off of that to punish teams."
That's what Argentina did Wednesday in an impressive 4-1 win over Mexico in San Diego.
Bradley noted Argentina has given forwards Lionel Messi, Julio Cruz and Sergio Aguero the freedom to move, which makes them very tough to defend.
"I think everyone is aware of the test we face," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "For me it is just another opportunity to try to prove myself and, as a team, it's a chance for us to grow and get better."
While the United States hasn't won, the players are confident the exhibitions will help them in the home-and-home qualifying series against Barbados.
"You need to play these games, because this will make you better in the long run," forward Landon Donovan said.
"When we get to Barbados, we'll be ready. We have to make sure that losing a couple of games does not sink our confidence and make us think we're not a good team," Donovan added. "We are playing very good teams, and when we get to Barbados, we'll be ready."
Forward Clint Dempsey said it would have been easy to play easier competition and post some lopsided wins. However, he said players don't push themselves in those games.
"We did well against Spain, especially in the first half," Dempsey said. "They booed Spain off the field. Obviously in the second half, they were the better team. You go over there and play in those types of games, it obviously makes you better."
Bradley said there is still room for a lot of improvement for a U.S. team that he acknowledges is rebuilding and learning once again to play with the best.
"Without playing in those kinds of games and seeing it first hand, it is very hard to just talk about it," Bradley said. "I think now everyone has a better understanding of this, what it's like when the games are at the highest level."
Donovan, who missed the last two games with a groin injury, hopes to return to the lineup Sunday and make his 100th international appearance.
The United States added forward Kenny Cooper and defender Drew Moor to its roster Saturday. Both played in FC Dallas' 2-1 MLS loss to the New England Revolution on Friday night, and Moor was called for a penalty in the box that led to a Steve Ralston goal on a penalty kick.
Argentina is 6-2 in games against the United States, with the last U.S. win coming in 1999. Argentina posted a 4-1 win when the teams last met in the 2007 Copa America.