[USA-SPAIN] A rematch of the USA's stunning 2-0 victory over Spain the Confederations Cup two years ago is what few would regard as a tune-up, yet with the
Concacaf Gold Cup opener on tap Tuesday the game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Univision) won't come close to the intensity of the last encounter.
They won’t have the element of surprise this time around and frankly, that’s just the way the Americans want it.
Spain surely wants payback for that 2-0 defeat in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal. It will field many of the same players who went on to lift the World Cup trophy last year, as will many of the Americans.
Yet the stakes are higher for Coach Bob Bradley and his team. Though this is the real start to the cycle leading up to the next World Cup three years hence in Brazil, this is a transition phase. The coach has selected most of his best available players with the intention of winning the Gold Cup, and the Spain game is his only real chance in a competitive environment to assess a few of them – Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, among others – who have either not played much recently for their clubs, or he’s seen little of recently other than on a screen.
“We have followed Freddy since he transferred to Rizespor,” said Bradley of a move to the Turkish second division, Adu’s fifth club since 2007. This is his first callup since 2009. “We’ve watched him a number of different times on the computer. We’ve not managed to get there.
“It hasn’t always added up enough yet with the full national team but this seems like it’s a good opportunity to get him back in with us where we have a good month together and can challenge him. We hope that he has continued to grow and mature and can play a bigger role with the national team.”
Only midfield maestro Xavi and captain Carles Puyol are missing among Spain’s most prominent players. This is the first of two games they will play – they stop over in Venezuela on the way home to play the national team – and even if coach Vicente del Bosque empties his bench the U.S. will be tested.
“Starting off against a team like Spain is obviously tough, but it’s a certainly a game we’ll be motivated for, and a good way to get ready for a demanding tournament like the Gold Cup,” said defender Clarence Goodson, who arrived at the team’s training camp in Cary, N.C., earlier this week just a few days after playing for his Danish club team, Brondby.
“There aren’t many words that can describe Spain. They’re a fantastic team. Their movement off the ball is just unbelievable, their passing and trapping seem effortless. Certainly Spain, and Barcelona, have set the bar quite high for the world of football.”
The U.S. well-stocked with central midfielders, so if nothing else Coach Bradley has bodies with which to stack that area of the field and blunt the clever movement and sharp passing by which Spain slices teams apart. Yet, without Stuart Holden, and Sacha Kljestan’s participation in question and Adu’s form yet to be determined, the only truly dynamic creative elements are the standbys, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.
Any attacking impetus that the midfielders and outside backs can provide will be welcome, and probably essential, since the forward corps of Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo and Chris Wondolowski is mighty thin.
Still, Altidore scored one of the U.S. goals against Spain in Bloemfontein two years ago and can wear down defenders, especially ones coming off a draining and demanding European seasons. Wondo has only 59 minutes of U.S. experience from his appearance last January against Chile, yet his penchant for finding time and space just as the ball arrives can be a potent element.
The U.S. can dress 18 players for the Spain game, and can use up to six substitutes. A squad of 22 traveled from Cary on Thursday; goalkeeper Nick Rimando will stay with Real Salt Lake during the tournament unless there is a goalkeeper injury or suspension, and Alejandro Bedoya has been training with the U.S. in case Benny Feilhaber, injured last weekend in an MLS game, isn’t healthy enough to be named on the 23-man roster that is due Monday.
“We certainly thought first and foremost about putting a team together that has the best chance to win this Gold Cup,” said Bradley when the original roster was announced. “With that we believe that there are players here that we see for sure being key parts in 2014, so I hope those things go together well.”
One reason to rest as many players as much as possible against Spain is the USA’s potentially arduous Gold Cup schedule that starts Tuesday in Detroit against Canada. If it reaches the June 25 final in the Rose Bowl, it will have played seven games – counting Spain – in seven different cities during a span of 22 days.
“I think the emphasis is always very professional,” says Goodson of the buildup to a very busy month of June. “We’re here to get a job done. The focus is certainly the Gold Cup and that’s not to take anything away from the Spain game whatsoever. But we are working towards winning the Gold Cup.”