BRENT LATHAM - Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Yesterday was a travel day for us and the US national team, as we headed south from Rustenburg down the main highway to Bloemfontein. The US flew in but we journalists got to drive - four hours through a midwestern like countryside, to the cold city on the border with Lesotho. So here is what I've been thinking about during the trip.
The Potential Excuses
There are already a million reasons not to beat Spain, and they're legit. FIFA's organization has really hurt the already reduced US chances by setting up a difficult situation. The US has only two days to prepare for the best team in the world.
Here's the situation: The US game ended at almost midnight Sunday in Rustenburg, and they play Spain Wednesday night in Bloemfontein, some 400 miles to the south. Spain, on the other hand, played its last group match Saturday and has been in Bloemfontein since last Wednesday, for its last two group matches.
On top of that, Spain practically clinched the group in the second game - though technically they had to win or draw against South Africa, and has used 22 of its 23 players in the first round. The US, well we know, had to scrap it out. But the US doesn't control any of that and they have not been using any of it as an excuse, aside from saying that yes, obviously, they are a bit tired.
On top of it FIFA somehow avoided telling the US where or when it would train until late Tuesday afternoon. The organization here has been a joke of sorts, everyone is very nice but niceness doesn't always mean competence - but that's an issue for a later date.
Spain is trying its best to take the US seriously given the circumstances. At their press conference they fielded a number of questions about teams they are not playing, Italy and Egypt. While respectfully saying the US is just as hard a test, it was clear that they felt Italy would have been a tougher one, but that is probably obvious.
When asked which players particularly worried them, the Spanish players did express admiration for the speed of the American attack led by Landon Donovan. Coach Vicente del Bosque said he was intrigued by the play of Charlie Davies against Egypt as well, and he said he wasn't sure that Spain's back line had the pace to deal with him and Altidore at once.
Del Bosque, according to the Spanish media, has been hyping the USA all week, telling the media not to count the US out when considering semifinal opponents. Apparently now that makes him, besides a winner, sort of a prophet.
The American line - up
I've had pretty good success guessing what Coach Bradley is going to do so far, but this matchup leaves me a bit mystified as far as predicting the coach's selection. Though Spain clearly fears most the US that showed up against Egypt and attacked, I'm not sure that's an idea Bradley will share. And he may be right.
The US is capable of playing the sort of wide open game it played against Egypt and producing chances, but Spain is much more clinical than Egypt and will punish the chances they get in return. If we see that kind of game, it may the sort of of 4-2 or 5-3 result that wins the US street cred, but the Americans are not going to win that kind of game.
So Coach Bradley will likely revert to a 4-5-1, leaving Davies on the bench from the outset. The back four will likely be the same as always. Though Carlos Bocanegra has been training again, I don't expect him to take Jay DeMerit's spot. Expect Jozy Altidore alone up top for the first sixty minutes.
In the midfield, I expect Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley in the middle, and Clint Dempsey on the left. Landon Donovan will obviously be on the field, either on the right or in a withdrawn forward role.
I'd expect Benny Feilhaber to be the other man on the field, either on the right side where he played the final thirty minutes against Egypt, or in that attacking midfielder role. The other option would be for Donovan to go out right and Feilhaber or Sacha Kljestan to pay in the center, though the way Landon's been tearing it up, I expect him mostly in a central role Wednesday night.
I invite you to leave your own starting lineup below. See you soon!