USA – Spain from Gillette Stadium: A Digital Journal
This weekend's sports landscape featured an international soccer friendly between the U.S. and Spain. I was lucky enough to be there when the World Cup champions brought the fury of their game down on Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, with disastrous results for the U.S. Make sure to check out the gallery of my pictures included at the top of the article - and their captions, AND THEIR CAPTIONS - to see the game through my eyes.
Alright, maybe it wasn't disastrous. They only lost 4-0...Ok. Disastrous. Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for the U.S. all the way, I'm a patriot dang it, but it was a pleasure to watch the Spanish team play. As a soccer fan, there's not much better than watching the beautiful game played so...well, beautifully.
From the first touch, Spain had control of the game. They dominated possession and at every turn showed their formidable skill. As I said last week about Barcelona when discussing their dismantling of Manchester United in the Champions League final, Spain's touches, controls and passes were all exquisite. They found open space anytime they wanted, and pushed back the U.S. whenever they threatened - which was rarely. The re-match of 2009's Confederations Cup semi-final - the biggest win in U.S. soccer history - wasn't much of a match. Spain dominated.
At first glance, the loss is troubling, considering that this was the U.S. tune up for this week's CONCACAF Gold Cup. But is it really troubling? Well, it is and it isn't. The U.S. did not start their full team. Stars like Dempsy, Donovan and Bradley were on the bench to start, and Donovan wouldn't even make it to the field in this game. Others only played the first half. Spain on the other hand was at considerable strength. Yes, their best midfield player, Xavi, didn't make the trip, but David Silva isn't exactly a huge downgrade. I said to my brother and cousin, whom accompanied me to the game, that the Spain B- team is crushing the U.S. B team. It really served to drive home the difference between the U.S. and other top flight teams. Teams like Spain are so great at the little things, which is where the U.S. needs to improve. For example, Spain looks to pass the ball into the perfect area and let their players run into it, giving them somewhere to go. U.S. players, however, are more interested in just getting the ball to somebody else. It's a heck of a juxtaposition.
Bottom line, Spain was always the better side, they should have won this game, but you would have hoped to see a better effort from the U.S. Which is why the game is troubling. Defensively the U.S. was a mess. They, like the crowd, seemed mesmerized by the ball handling skills of Spain. Too many defenders were staring at the ball and not watching a world top ten player sprint in behind them for an open look on goal.
The rare occasions when the U.S. did get the ball were marked with bad decisions as well - which is something I've noticed under coach Bob Bradley. The U.S. has a habit of trying to play long balls in to their forward players. Which is a mistake. The U.S. strikers don't have the skills to control these balls then beat their defenders one on one, and the U.S. defenders don't have the skills to play those long balls in with the necessary precision. They need to utilize players like Bradley and Donovan to possess the ball, matriculate it up the field and allow players like Altidore and Dempsy to make quick runs behind their defenders from the top of the box. But maybe that's just my opinion.
Look, it's not all doom and gloom for the U.S. They won't face a side nearly, NEARLY as good as Spain in the coming Gold Cup tournament. They're still a top five team this side of the Prime Meridian. I would just hope that Bob Bradley stops thinking that he has Spain's players, who can play any ball into any space (seriously, I'd bet those guys could make flawless passes with a football) and adjusts to a more possessive style offense. Still, their style of play will serve them well in the Gold Cup, I look for them to be there at the end.
All in all, Saturday was a great day. Great weather, great stadium, great soccer. It was an absolute pleasure to experience and I can't wait for the next U.S. game to roll through the Northeast.