PREVIEW: USA - SPAIN
The US Men's National Team will take the field on Saturday against reigning European and World champions Spain in Foxboro Massachusetts, in their final preparation before the start of the 2011 Gold Cup.
Amidst the backdrop of a growing crisis which is increasingly enveloping both FIFA and the USA's own confederation of CONCACAF with a host of bribery and corruption allegations, the 90 minutes to be played between these two teams will serve as a welcome reminder to American fans that the game they love nevertheless goes on despite a seemingly constant political mess off the field.
With the plethora of posturing and mudslinging dominating the headlines in recent weeks, it was in retrospect excellent foresight that Bob Bradley and the upper brass of the USSF secured a tasty rematch with arguably the best team in the world over the last four years as a final tune-up before heading into the Gold Cup play to shift the focus back to the game.
The last meeting between these two teams in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal was a memorable one, with the Stars & Stripes pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the program in their shocking 2-0 win over the Iberian team.
Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey were both on-target in that 2-0 shocker, and two years later, both players will be on the field from the start and gunning to help push their team to a repeat performance.
The teams had also met one year earlier in Santander, Spain, as the hosts warmed up for their run through the European Championships with a 1-0 win over the Americans thanks to a late goal by midfield maestro Xavi.
The Barcelona midfielder has not been included in Spain's squad this time around, however the team still carries a star-studded roster containing nearly all of the important pieces of their 2010 World Cup winning squad.
Of the starting eleven that took the field for the July 11 final in Johannesburg against Holland, only defender Carlos Puyol is missing in addition to Xavi, due to injury struggles by the Barcelona captain for much of the latter parts of the season.
Otherwise, the lone notable absence to the squad is Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, with household names such as Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Iker Casillas, and David Silva set to take the field in front of an expected audience of more than 60,000 at Gillette Stadium.
The Americans also bring a fully-loaded squad to Foxboro, with only a relatively few regulars missing from an otherwise strong squad. Central midfielder Stuart Holden, who had a breakout season with Bolton in the English Premier League, is the most significant absence from Bob Bradley's favorites as he recovers from a knee injury.
Additionally, newcomer Timothy Chandler withdrew from the roster at the request of his club team Nürnberg in Germany's Bundesliga after initially accepting an invitation, and Benny Feilhaber is highly unlikely to take part in the game due to an ankle injury suffered during the previous weekend in MLS play.
Otherwise, the core of the team including stars Landon Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, Michael Bradley, captain Carlos Bocanegra and many others should be included in the starting lineup or ready to go from the bench.
Two relatively new faces who will certainly see playing time are German-American defensive midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones, who will be lining up for his fifth cap with the team, and forward Juan Agudelo who will also be making his fifth appearance for the Red, White & Blue.
Whether Agudelo is on the field from the start or enters as a second-half substitute will largely depend on whether Bradley chooses to play Altidore alone up top in order to pack a five-man midfield. The 18 year-old Colombian-born phenom has already shown his big-game mettle, scoring the equalizing goal against South American powerhouse Argentina in March, and will do everything in his power to be a handful for the Spanish defense.
The game kicks off at 4:30 pm local time at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.