Match Report: Spain 4 – 0 USA

The genius who scheduled a friendly with the reigning world champions 3 days before USA’s most important tournament of 2011 did Bob Bradley no favors. This difficult circumstance completely dictated Bradley’s strategic decisions in terms of squad and formation and USMNT fans had no choice but to cringe and bear it like a paddle to our behind.

We saw such different performances from USA in the two halves that it’s almost more useful to look at each half on its own, as a separate mini-match. While FFG normally indulges in USA matches as opportunities to pull out the diagrams, we can’t really bring ourselves to dignify this result with too much fancy analysis. One frank sentence covers it: We sent a tentative squad out against the world’s greatest national team and got our butts whipped. Nonetheless, there are always lessons to learn, and we’ll try to salvage what we can from this advanced course in world futbol.

Match 1 (1st Half): Spain 3 – 0 USA
With half his attention and focus already on Tuesday’s opening Gold Cup match against Canada, Bradley did his best to compromise but leaned toward the conservative by keeping his 5 most experienced players out of the starting 11 (Donovan, Dempsey, Bocanegra, Bradley and Cherundolo). Instead, we saw a 4-4-2 that felt a lot like one of Bob’s experimental young “B-team” squads from the 2009 Gold Cup:

Altidore         Agudelo
Rogers         Jones          Edu         Kljestan
Lichaj         Ream         Onyewu          Spector

Spain sent out their possession-minded 4-3-3. Spain’s 4-3-3 differs from Barcelona’s similar formation in that Spain plays Xavi Alonso alongside Busquets as a second holder, giving them an even firmer hold of their deep midfield than Barca (if such a thing is possible). This frees their third midfielder, in this case Cazorla, to roam more freely and support the already well-armed line of 3 attackers. Cazorla, in fact, who wasn’t even on the World Cup squad, was the man of the match, netting two well-deserved goals within a 13 minute span. At times I thought maybe Bob had fielded a local men’s recreational team, but indeed it was our own national team being made to look ridiculous and unsophisticated. Here are a few speculations/observations:

  • Lichaj and Ream on the left side of defense were like lambs tossed to wolves. Lichaj had some aspirations going forward, but seemed to dribble himself into the walls of Spanish forts. They were both spun dizzy by David Silva and company, and at times seemed to be learning the flamenco. Together they were bamboozled by Negredo on the second goal as he made a diagonal run between them to beautifully take an uncharacteristic long ball and beat a furious Howard.
  • Jones and Edu were atrociously ineffective holding the USA midfield. I confess I’ve specifically “thought out loud” about the experiment of fielding these two as partners in the middle. OK, fair enough, experiment complete. These two tracked their marks so poorly I thought maybe Cazorla and company had donned invisibility cloaks. What else could explain the free reign they had just above our back four?
  • Kljestan raised questions about even being on the squad with his first half performance at outside mid. He turned the ball over repeatedly and didn’t support defensively. I thought he redeemed himself in the second half, however, when Bob moved him inside alongside Bradley junior.
  • Jozy and Juan–can we blame them for not being effective? I think Pique has had more challenging afternoons watching Shakira dance. Agudelo, it has to be said, did show the same boldness and confidence we’ve come to love in him, but “one vs. the Spanish Armada” isn’t likely to pan out very often.

Match 2 (2nd Half): Spain 1 – 0 USA

To salvage some dignity, Bob sent out a much different team in the 2nd half, including Bradley junior, Dempsey and Cherundolo. Along with these personnel changes came an interesting shift in formation. I’d describe it as a 4-3-1-2, with Dempsey as that predatory line of 1 allowed to hover behind the forwards, although nominally he’d probably be listed as the left midfielder of a 4-4-2.

The second half score line speaks for itself. More experience meant smarter decisions, better positioning and even more pressure on the Spanish goal. If anyone ever doubted M. Bradley’s role as the spine of the midfield (not that FFG ever has) had to acknowledge the striking contrast between the 1st and 2nd halves. Cherundolo, coming off a successful season in the Bundesliga, also infused the US with a dose of wisdom and composure. It’s easy to imagine the integrity of a back line that includes both he and Bocanegra (which we hope to see on Tuesday). At this point, we are willing to sacrifice speed going forward for some savvy and solidity.

In the end, this was a friendly exhibition match and won’t live long in memory. A public humiliation is never fun, however, and we’ll need a much different performance–and set of results–from the Gold Cup to convince us this was just one of those bad dreams we can forget.

Gringos, any other lessons you think we can take from this thrasing?

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. robinoz0 says:

    whooh, sounds like a rough game. what are Lichaj and Ream’s games normally like? to be chosen for the US national team is a feat, but the last thing this team needs is sub par defense

  2. Ben says:

    Ream now has a super solid game under his belt vs. Canada so I’m thinking it was a matter of chemistry in the Spain game. When he’s surrounded by experience he seems to lift his play.

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