Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ATH: US v Spain

June 23, 2009
Scouting Report: Spain

By Graig Carbino - ALBANY, NY (June 23, 2009) USSoccerPlayers -- It almost feels wrong to quickly brush past the United States breathtaking result against Egypt yesterday and look forward to their upcoming semifinal encounter with Spain. Sunday’s match will certainly go down in US soccer lore, but for now we look ahead to what might be on Wednesday.

In tournaments like next summer’s World Cup the games come thick and fast. They are coming and going even quicker in this mini primer with only two days off between matches so far for the United States.

Egyptian management blamed their loss against the States on fatigue. Not a great excuse when considering the US played under the same conditions, but you have to think that lethargy may creep in at some point. Egypt certainly did not look sharp on Sunday, but that could be down to underestimation as much as weariness.

You wouldn’t assume that Spain would come into Wednesdays knockout match with anything but respect for their opponents. The two teams met last June in a friendly won 1-nil on a fine goal by playmaker Xavi in a match that Spain mostly controlled. Still, the US did create a chance or two back then and even had a goal ruled out for offside early in the first half.

If memory serves, Freddy Adu was at the heart of everything positive the US did offensively that day. If the past week or so has told us anything, it’s that Adu is not looking likely to get another shot against Spain in this tournament. The same can probably be said for Jose Francisco Torres as well. US coach Bob Bradley has been reluctant to use the two young playmakers at all so far in South Africa.

Going into the matchup against Egypt there was a lot of talk about Adu, Torres, Danny Califf, and others getting a chance to impress. Well, that didn’t happen and the US has added a game few expected to see that should be fully first choice.

Don’t expect many changes against Spain. Tim Howard will probably come back into goal for the USA. No knock against Brad Guzan, who was a key part of the win that got this date against Spain.

The backline should stay the same too. Carlos Bocanegra has not been able to shake a nagging hamstring injury and Jay Demerit has filled in admirably in the Captain’s absence. There is still the outside chance that if Bocanegra is healthy he could come into the team in place of Jonathan Bornstein at left back, a position he played all season with club side Rennes in France.

Adding Bocanegra to left side of the defense might not be the worst idea as another veteran presence could only help in a battle that will pit the US rearguard against quite possibly the World’s best attacking duo in Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Both players have scored three times for La Seleccion so far this tournament and will be more than a handful for whoever is chosen in defense for the US. The two forwards certainly know how to finish but the service into them is the true danger in any match against Spain

Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley should be holding down the center of the field again, and they will need to be at their best to contain the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera and Xavi. This four man midfield for Spain can do magical things with the ball when afforded time and space. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will also need to do their part in harassing this four-headed attacking monster.

Jozy Altidore will expect another start in attack with Charlie Davies most likely sliding in next to him from the beginning. Altidore will look to play position against the likes of Carlos Puyol, Raul Albiol and Sergio Ramos with Davies running off of him into the created space.

Being able to hold the ball up top and bring the US midfield into the attack will be an enormous key against a Spanish squad that thrives on possession.

Players like Donovan, Bradley, and Dempsey are going to have to work just as hard defensively as they will on offense. If Altidore and Davies aren’t able to take passes in and hold them up long enough for the midfield to push forward the US will find it very difficult to muster any sort of possession, let alone meaningful offensive sequences.

Iraq tried to play eleven players behind the ball against Spain and hold out for a draw. It almost worked. The thing is that usually great offensive talent will find a way through at some point. The United States would be doing themselves a disservice by just sitting back and hoping for the best against Spain.

They owe it to each other to have a go at the Spanish just like they did Egypt. Chase, pester, bother and fight their opponents into submission while at the same time having the confidence to string some passes together and create. It can be done, we’ll see if it will be done on Wednesday.

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