June 3, 2011


U.S. to face world champion Spain (Steve Davis, 6/01/11, Sports Illustrated)

The stylish Spaniards are certainly a crowd draw. Who wouldn't want to see a side that moves the ball even better than Argentina, which thoroughly flummoxed a helpless United States defense for a half in March? The game will apparently set state attendance records at a venue that hasn't necessarily drawn that well recently. The U.S. team tends to pop up frequently in Foxboro, Mass., but the last 10 matches at Gillette have averaged just over 18,000 in attendance. Contrast that to the 57,500 tickets already snatched up for Saturday's clash.

It would all arrange a wonderful start to the summer international season but for that tricky timing. Bradley's own 23-man selection -- with Alejandro Bedoya having replaced the injured Benny Feilhaber in camp -- gets just two days of rest before opening Gold Cup play. One of those is a travel day as the team scoots over to Detroit to face mercurial Canada on Tuesday. Counting Saturday's match, the U.S. could play seven matches over 22 days -- essentially once every third day over three weeks.

Yes, rolling out a weaker version against Spain could spell widely-watched disaster. On the other hand, Canada has some talent and isn't exactly a pushover, and a bad result Tuesday in Detroit could put the summer in crisis mode right off the bat. Bradley has long stressed the Gold Cup importance for its ultimate reward, a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, a World Cup test run that gives the small field of participants a leg up for Brazil 2014. Or so the theory goes.

With six substitutions allowed Saturday (standard for friendlies), the coach has some wiggle room. So it's possible that some first-teamers start but get lifted at halftime. Either way, expect the minutes to be carefully managed for Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and others.

So the myriad U.S. questions begin getting a fresh round of answers on Saturday. Is Bradley still committed to the 4-2-3-1 experiment that just can't achieve liftoff? Is center back Oguchi Onyewu still a commanding presence, or has Tim Ream lapped him? Can Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley finally gain requisite synchronization as a central midfield tandem? Is there growth and improvement in young strikers Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo? Can the MLS star Chris Wondolowski graduate into a difference-maker status at this level?

More specifically against Spain, the back line will be under special duress. Spain's midfielders, even without the absent Xavi Hernandez, are masters at holding possession and then finding strikers in good places. Lapses in concentration tend to be punished severely. Steve Cherundolo remains the solid incumbent at right back, but what Bradley does with the other three spots is anybody's guess. And, as always, left back remains a puzzle, one especially ripe for exposure Saturday. Eric Lichaj finished his season at Leeds at left back, so he might possibly be a solution.

Playing a formation like a club about to be relegated would against Man U is unAmerican.

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Posted by at June 3, 2011 4:58 AM

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