On Wednesday in Spain, the USA matched the performances of 2006 World Cup champ Italy and runner-up France when they went to Spain earlier this year for friendly games. The USA lost, 1-0. The game extended Spain's undefeated streak to 16 games, but the Americans played an impressive first half in which teenager Freddy Adu demonstrated that he's ready to become a force on the national team.
Besides beating Italy and France, Spain's wins since the 2006 World Cup have included triumphs against England, Argentina and European champion Greece.
Against the USA, it was expected that the Spaniards, who are preparing for the European Championship, would keep the ball for themselves in this game. But that didn't happen so much until the second half, which Adu spent on the sidelines after he was replaced at halftime by DaMarcus Beasley.
Adu was paired upfront with Eddie Johnson and set up Johnson for a pair of prime scoring chances. One was negated by an offside call and on the other, a clever, long pass from the U.S. half, ended in an easy save from goalkeeper Iker Casillas when Johnson shot from a tight angle.
While the U.S. team as a whole offered a more spirited performance compared to its outing in the 2-0 loss at Wembley to England a week ago, Adu troubled the Spaniards and kept alive hopes of an upset.
But in the second half, the Americans had little possession and Johnson disappointed again when Eddie Lewis sent him a nice cross that Johnson headed wide from close range.
The USA's lack of offense in the second half was disappointing for sure. In the midfield, neither Clint Dempsey nor Beasley found paths down the flanks. Central midfielders Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu mostly served as extra central defenders with Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra.
Bradley, Bocanegra and Onyewu were all beaten by Xavi when he slalomed through the middle to strike Spain's gamewinner in the 79th minute. Before their goal, the Spaniards hit the crossbar and the post.
Bradley resorted too often to fouls, and as was the case with Edu, contributed little to the offense.
"In certain areas, I think there was improvement [from the match against England]," said U.S. coach Bob Bradley. "In the first half, I certainly felt that we passed the ball better. In the second half, we had a very good chance early on but we lost a little bit of energy and Spain was able to capitalize."
"I thought we stopped moving to support each other when we had the ball. [Cesc] Fabregas and Xavi started moving very well to find little gaps in our midfield. At that point, Spain was able to take advantage. They're a very good passing team."
The USA hosts Argentina in a friendly at Giants Stadium on Sunday. It opens qualifying play for the 2010 World Cup on June 15 when it meets Barbados June 15 in the first leg of their home-and-home series at The Home Depot Center. The second leg will be played on June 22 in Barbados
June 4 in Santander, Spain
Spain 1 USA 0.
Goal: Xavi (Fabregas) 79.
Spain -- Casillas, Capdevila (Navarro, 53), Marchena, Puyol, Ramos Cazorla, Hernandez, Xabi Alonso (Senna, 46), Silva (De La Red, 58), Torres (Guiza, 46), Fabregas (Arbeloa, 84).
USA -- Howard (Guzan, 46, Cherundolo (Hejduk, 46), Onyewu, Bocanegra, Pearce, Dempsey (Mastroeni, 86), Edu, Bradley, Lewis (Wolff, 70,) Johnson, Adu (Beasley, 46)
Corner Kicks 7/3
Yellow Cards: USA - Bradley 77.
Referee: Sokol Jareci (ALB)