The USA begins its quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup June 15 against a team ranked 117th in the FIFA World Rankings. Today, the USA faces No. 4-ranked Spain. A poor showing in Santander won't set off any alarm bells regarding the USA's qualifying chances, but an impressive performance is what it needs to repair its reputation after its poor effort last week in England. A Guardian reporter, for example, belittled the 2-0 England win by claiming "a set of traffic cones would have put up more resistance" than the American players.
(SPAIN-USA TV, Wednesday: espn360.com, live, 4 pm ET; ESPN2, delay, 5:30 pm ET; Galavision, delay, 7 pm ET/PT.)
"It took a few days to get over that," said U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra. "A lot of us play over there and we were pretty disappointed with the performance in general."
The loss at Wembley was the first major blemish on Coach Bob Bradley's tenure since he took the helm in December 2006.
In 2007, Bradley guided the USA to the Gold Cup title. The three losses at the Copa America later that summer could be excused for having used a young, inexperienced squad.
Against England, Bradley had at his service his corps of foreign-based players. Instead of indicating that the U.S. national team may be on course to a higher level, the game revealed that the USA may be stuck on a plateau.
The USA rules its region - especially because most of its games against archrival Mexico are played on U.S. soil - but its limitations were exposed when it was outplayed by a team that couldn't qualify for the European Championship.
More worrying than the USA's lack of resistance against England was its inability to attack creatively. And, against Spain, the Americans will again be without Landon Donovan, who is still nursing a groin injury.
In the USA's first three games of the year -- a 2-0 win over Sweden, a 2-2 tie with Mexico, and a 3-0 win at Poland -- Donovan set up three goals and scored one.
Against England, without Donovan, U.S. midfielders chased more than they orchestrated and forwards went without service.
Besides the goal scored against Mexico by Jozy Altidore, who is not in the squad for the Spain game, American forwards have been blanked this year. In fact, four of the USA's goals this year have come from defenders after set plays: Oguchi Onyewu (2), Carlos Bocanegra and Eddie Robinson.
Wide midfielder Eddie Lewis, who scored the final goal in the win over Poland, hints that we're unlikely to see a U.S. team that takes the initiative against Spain.
"We'll assume Spain will have a decent percentage of possession and we'll probably look to drop and counter," said Lewis.
But even that strategy requires inventiveness from the midfield and finishing from the forwards.
Clint Dempsey, who may be used upfront or in the midfield, and DaMarcus Beasley, are the USA's best hope of troubling the Spanish defense and the game provides an enticing test for the pair that struggled against the English.
Upfront against England were Josh Wolff and Eddie Johnson, who last scored for the USA a year ago. The other striker on the U.S. roster for Spain is Nate Jaqua.
Also under the spotlight will be central midfielder Michael Bradley. He comes off a stellar, high-scoring season in the Dutch league but he failed to contribute to the attack against England nor did he bring order to the midfield.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, infamous for his foolish red-card foul in the 2006 World Cup in the tie against Italy, is back in the squad and has a chance to reestablish himself.
While Spain is prepping for the European Championship, the USA plays one more friendly -- hosting Argentina on Sunday -- before facing Barbados in World Cup qualifying.
Facing England, Spain and Argentina puts the USA in fine shape for the clash with a Caribbean minnow. Putting the dour performance at Wembley behind it with something special in Spain would be even better.
U.S. ROSTER vs. Spain
Dominic Cervi (out of contract), Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Tim Howard (Everton/ENG).
Carlos Bocanegra (out of contract), Dan Califf (Midtjylland/DEN), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96/GER), Jay DeMerit (Watford/ENG), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard
Liege/BEL), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock/GER).
Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers/SCO), Michael Bradley (Heerenveen/NED), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Eddie Lewis (Derby County/ENG), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids).
Clint Dempsey (Fulham/ENG), Nate Jaqua (out of contract), Eddie Johnson (Fulham/ENG), Josh Wolff (out of contract).