BRENT LATHAM - Thursday, June 5, 2008
The US improved significantly on last week's performance at England but still succumbed to a superior Spain in Santander on Wednesday night.
The first half was a relatively even affair, as the Spanish forays into American territory were balanced by the Nats' counter attack which, led by Freddy Adu, looked somewhat potent.
The back and forth match started slowly as the teams felt each other out. In the sixth minute Tim Howard was forced to save as Xavi Alonso headed towards goal unmarked from twelve yards out.
Several Spanish passing combinations failed to materialize into a clear chance before Adu got into the action in the 22nd minute. The seldom used Benfica attacker combined cleverly in the box with Clint Dempsey, turning a Dempsey pass back across the area. The ball was deflected before the onrushing Fulham man could arrive, and Steve Cherundolo's rebound shot from range was knocked out for a corner.
Just a minute later the Yanks had the ball in the net on a counter attack, but Eddie Johnson was ruled offside and his goal called back.
Two minutes later Fernando Torres got into the action, forcing Howard into a nice save off a volley from close range.
Adu and Johnson continued to look like a dangerous pairing up front, and in the 33rd minute Adu forced Carlos Puyol to take him down at the top of the arc as he dashed through the Spanish defense towards goal. Steve Cherundolo stepped up to take the free kick and missed just high.
In the 38th minute Adu played another dangerous ball, this one a quick pass on the counter attack, through for Johnson, but the Fulham striker shot from an angle when it looked better to cut back, and his effort was easily corralled by Iker Casillas.
The Americans could take heart at halftime, going in tied, but their best chance of the night was to come immediately after the break.
In the 47th minute, Eddie Lewis brought the ball down the left wing and picked out Johnson with a superbly floated ball that found the ex-Wizard alone three yards from the goal. But to the dismay of the Americans, Johnson somehow found a way to nod the ball wide right when it would have been much easier to score.
Whether it was the near miss that took the air out of the attack, or the fact that their most active player in Adu had been substituted off at the half, that would be the last concrete chance for the Americans.
The remainder of the half was played almost exclusively on the American side of the field, and though the defense held up well, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Spanish would break through.
In the 61st minute Xavi came close. After a reckless challenge on Santi Cazorla at the top of the arc by Michael Bradley, the Spanish midfielder's shot from a restart hit the crossbar over a sprawling Brad Guzan, who had come on for Howard.
Four minutes later Marcos Senna, the naturalized Spanish-Brazilian, would have similar luck after trying from the right side. Having received the ball after a nifty series of passes, the future teammate of Josmer Altidore struck Guzan's left post.
The US was once again looking anemic on offense, and the introduction of Josh Wolff in the 71st minute did little to remedy that.
In the 75th minute Xavi teed one up again from the top of the box, this time from the run of play, but his blast was right at Guzan who got down quickly to save.
The midfield giveaways that were common against England began to become frequent again, and after one bad touch Bradley was forced to haul down a Spanish attacker and was booked.
A minute later the US defense would finally concede. Xavi received the ball thirty yards from goal, and touched around Carlos Bocanegra, who collided with Oguchi Onyewu. The Barcelona man then held off Frankie Hejduk as he finished authoritatively past Guzan. It was a moment of individual skill that the US defense had no answer for, and gave the Spanish a lead that could hardly have been called unmerited.
In the 86th minute, Bradley seemed to throw in the towel as well, bringing on Pablo Mastroeni, a third defensive midfielder, in place of Dempsey.
Johnson would make one last run into the Spanish box in extra time, but another weak shot from an impossible angle was again easily handled by Casillas, nicely summarizing the entire evening in one moment.
The Americans look to reground on Sunday when they face Argentina at Giants Stadium.