U.S. vs. Spain Friendly May Not Be the Best Warm-Up for the Gold Cup
In the run-up to next week's Gold Cup, Fox Soccer Channel has been replaying tournament matches from years past.
The other night, they aired the U.S. versus Honduras from 2009. Kyle Beckerman anchored a midfield that controlled possession and play for the majority of the game, and as a reminder of the constant flaws currently plaguing the USMNT, the Americans failed to execute in the final third.
In the only friendly scheduled before the 2011 Gold Cup begins, the U.S. plays current World Cup winners Spain on Saturday, June 4th, but the game has less of a chance of playing out like U.S./Honduras.
Kyle Beckerman isn't in the current U.S. squad, and the probability of him fairing as well even if he was are significantly diminished considering the current Spanish side.
These teams last met in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where the United States upset Spain in order to reach the finals against Brazil. Before this match, the U.S. had never beaten Spain (previously playing the team a year before), and along with advancing to its first ever Confederations Cup final, the match validated Bob Bradley's "team defense, bend not break, pack-it-in" approach he favors against superior opponents.
The United States can expect a similar game again as six Barcelona players—recent Champions League winners—were called up along with a multitude of top talent from other premier clubs. While not as tense as the 2009 match, Spain is the heavy favorite.
The friendly probably wasn't meant to be a culmination of the national team's pre-Gold Cup camp. Instead, its closer in form and planning to the Brazil match immediately following the World Cup where the unofficial slogan for the match was "A tribute to the Fans."
And that game certainly wasn't a contest as Neymar danced around the U.S. team, Landon Donovan appeared exhausted (outside of a controversial no-call on a breakaway), and Brazil moved the ball with impunity on its way to a 2-0 win.
With more than 57,500 tickets sold for the Spain match (a little over 77,000 were sold for the Brazil friendly), there appears to be support for these types of matches. Americans want the best, and Spain is currently the best.
If the friendly generates money, the fans clamor for it, and it improves relations between federations, then there is an argument for hosting such games no matter what the upcoming schedule.
Still, one has to ask if such scheduling will do more harm than good in the long run.
The winner of the 2011 Gold Cup will earn a place at the 2013 Confederations Cup, the ultimate in preparation and experience the following year's World Cup.
Can the U.S. afford to miss out on such an opportunity?
Bob Bradley thinks not as he commented on his 23 man roster for this years Gold Cup: “We have said since the start of the new cycle that winning the Gold Cup this year is a top priority, and that was our focus as we built this roster."
However, the scheduling may not support that philosophy. What CONCACAF country fields a team like Spain?
Which team will dominate possession against the United States...Mexico?
Hopefully not, for if America's southern neighbor has improved that much, the U.S. can forget making it to the Confederations Cup in 2013.
Mexico may be a difficult opponent, especially with the rise of "El Chicharito," Javier Hernández Balcázar at Manchester United, but one man doesn't a team make, and the United States is expected to be up to the challenge.
Unless, of course, it isn't comfortable dictating the pace, flow, and possession of the matches, an issue Bob Bradley's team has struggled with before. On more than one occasion, the team has looked confused and out of options trying to break down difficult opponents.
Not to mention the team has still not found that elusive goal scorer since Charlie Davies car-crash injuries, and some players like Freddy Adu and Chris Wondolowski will need to get a feel for the team's play, much like Kyle Beckerman's opportunity in 2009.
Will Saturday's Spain friendly give these squad players an opportunity to mesh with the current team?
With group games against Canada, Panama and Guadeloupe, the opposite is much more likely. Other than some practice with teamwork and chemistry against Spain, it looks like the U.S. will be learning on the fly as the Gold Cup begins.
I don't know about other American fans, but I'd prefer a ticket to the 2013 Confederations Cup to another tribute game against Spain.
Or, maybe the U.S. Soccer is more visionary than expected, and they planned the Spain friendly in preparation for the Confederations Cup (Spain has already qualified by winning the 2010 World Cup).
Hopefully, the United States can punch a ticket for the Confederations Cup in 2013.
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