NEW YORK -- Bob Bradley figures the Confederations Cup is a good dress rehearsal. Same first-round format as next year's World Cup in South Africa without any of the pressure.
"I think we all recognize that the spotlight will be much brighter next year. But in that regard, maybe it's part of what makes it a great opportunity," the U.S. coach said. "You're playing against top teams, and yet you're doing it at a time when maybe there's a little less focus and it gives you a chance to size up a lot of things."
The United States plays World Cup champion Italy on June 15 and South American champion Brazil three days later in Pretoria before shifting to Rustenberg to face African champion Egypt on June 21.
"It can't get any better for us. A year before the World Cup we get a chance to play in South Africa, a schedule that's going to be I'm guessing similar to the World Cup," said Tim Howard, the starting U.S. goalkeeper. "And I don't think the World Cup will come and we'll get a harder group. If it is, there's a conspiracy."
It will be the fourth trip to the Confederations Cup for the U.S. team. Back in 1992, when the initial edition was known as the Intercontinental Championship, the Americans finished third in the four-team field in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. finished third among the eight nations in 1999 in Mexico, upsetting Germany 2-0 in the first round before losing to Mexico in extra time in the semifinals. Four years later, the Americans had a dismal time in France, losing to Turkey and Brazil before a 0-0 draw with Cameroon.
This will be the second trip to South Africa in 1½ years for the U.S. team. In November 2007, the Americans beat South Africa 1-0 in an exhibition at Johannesburg on a goal by Steve Cherundolo, closing Bradley's first year as coach.
Bradley is bringing most of his regular starters to South Africa, trying to acclimate them to the country before the World Cup. Then he'll allow many of them to skip July's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"Any time you have a chance to have a dry run, see what it's all about, it gives you the kind of information that you can use as you make all your preparations for the following year," he said. "So it was always a goal to qualify for the Confederations Cup."
Howard's defense figures to be anchored by Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, who hopes to land with a bigger club now than his contract with Belgium's Standard Liege is over. DaMarcus Beasley, likely to leave Scotland's Glasgow Rangers, expects to see more time at left back, with Jonathan Spector starting on the right in place of Cherundolo, still recovering from hip surgery, and Frankie Hejduk, out with an injured groin.
Michael Bradley, the coach's son, has become a midfield regular. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan lead the attack, where they often are joined by 19-year-old Jozy Altidore, who failed to become a regular in Spain at Villarreal and then didn't get into a single match at Xerez after he was put on loan in January. Brian Ching will miss the tournament because of a hamstring injury.
For the United States, the tournament comes during a break at the halfway point in the final round of World Cup qualifying, which resumes Aug. 12 with a match at Mexico. While it's a learning experience and there's always pressure to win, the Confederations Cup is secondary to qualifying for the 32-nation field at soccer's showcase next year.
"I think our approach is very straightforward," Bob Bradley said. "The first round always involves three games, and it's finding a way in the course of those three games to advance out of your group. And again, that can happen in different ways, but it's a collective three-game experience."