The question today is not if the US can beat the world's best footballing side in the Confederations Cup semi-final in South Africa. On paper, Spain is a massive favorite. Any reasonable, unbiased analysis says the Spaniards will stroke the ball around at will, exploit the tiniest of gaps in the US rearguard and generally have their way with the Americans.
I will accept this as a given.
But a question does remain. How will the US perform? Tentatively and awed, as they did against Brazil (and, to a lesser extent, Costa Rica in qualifying)? Or committed and confident, as against Egypt.
Without a doubt, the US is up against it. They must lay deep against Spain, a tactic that no team prefers. The speed and movement of Fernando Torres and David Villa is a bad match-up for the Nats pedestrian back four. Therefore, they can't play up the pitch. That creates a domino effect, forcing the US midfield to also play deeper, lest there be too much space between the two lines, space where the likes of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso can operate at will. As such, the US will be forced to rely on counter-attacks and set-pieces (which are a Spanish weakness and a US strength) to generate offense. In a perfect world, the Americans would be able to have a measure of ball possession themselves--against a side that lives with the ball at their feet--to take some of the pressure off defensively. I don't see that happening, not with the available personnel, nor with the necessary set-up.
The game against Italy provides a blueprint. The final score obscures how well the US played in that game, finding chances in the first half before Ricardo Clark was sent off for a red card. The work-rate was superb, if invention in the offensive third was not. Defend as a team, don't chase the ball, keep shape and transition quickly from defense to offense. Get the ball forward to the guys with pace, Altidore, Davies, Donovan, and rush into attack. Fitness and desire will play a major part.
The first 15 minutes will tell. If the US gives up another early goal (they've been scored upon in the first 10 minutes in three of their last five games), they will be finished. Chasing the game is difficult enough. Chasing the game against a Spanish side that is on a 35-match unbeaten run and is the best in the world at moving the ball around is suicide. If the US can get in some early tackles, show some thrust going forward, the tenor of the game might change in their favor. Results aside, this is a chance for the US to make a statement.
Live blog to come. Stay tuned.
0 min: US lineup: Howard-Spector-Onyewu-DeMerit-Bocanegra-Dempsey-Clark-Bradley-Donovan-Davies-Altidore
Carlos Bocanegra returns from a hamstring injury and is placed out wide left at the expense of Jonny Bornstein. Great substitution. Long-time National Team followers have begged for Boca to be moved to the left from the center of defense. DeMerit's performance alongside Onyewu in South Africa apparently (finally!) convinced Coach Bob Bradley to pull the trigger. Tim Howard in for Brad Guzan in goal.
This is the best possible lineup Bradley could have sent out. So far so good.
0 min: Spain lineup: Casillas-Sergio Ramos-Pique-Puyol-Capdevila-Xabi Alonso-Fabregas-Xavi-Riera-Villa-Torres.
An embarrassment of riches. No surprises there. I feel compelled to mention they put their shorts on one leg at a time, just live everyone else.
0 min: Jorginho told me to "Be More Funny." I replied that my live blogs are always hilarious, because I'm drunk when I do them. Though that's not the case today, I'll give it a shot.
Here's one: I have a new catch phrase: "I give it two years." It is said with bitterness, grunted almost, and refers to anything that sucks. It comes from my mother, of all people, who said it when informed that X got married last week. Honestly, if you could heard the way she said it, you'd know how funny it is.
0 min: And we're on the air! I typically watch US games with the sound off while listening to Elliott Smith, who makes me happier than the commentators, especially Tommy Smyth. Sound is on today, though, so I can make fun of insipid statemenst from John Harkes and JP Dellacamera.
0 min: I love Spain. Five Liverpool players on the roster, three in the Starting XI, including Fernando "El Nino" Torres upon whom I have the largest man-crush in the history of Bromances. It is not possible tove love a man you will never meet in a more heterosexual way than I love El Nino.
My kingdom for a tilda.
I love the way they play. I love the way they decimated Germany last summer. I love their uniforms. I love recalling the time my Spanish friend Sergio screamed at a TV in fractured english, "The referee! He is always against a-Spain!"
0 min: JP says "no pressure on the US today." Um...really? I stridently do not concur.
1 min: And away we go.
1 min: Gooch is wearing gloves. He is either taking a motorcycle ride right after the game of has a really bad case of psoriasis.
2 min: That is what the US can't do. Give away possession in their half and concede a free kick in a dangerous spot.
4 min: US corner comes to nothing. At least they didn't play it short to Beasley.
5 min: Great ball from Gooch to Davies. Casillas alert to cut out the danger. Davies was in alone.
6 min: 50-50 balls, 2nd balls, knock-downs...the US has to win them all.
6 min: Donovan's touch heavy there, but it appears the counters are on.
7 min: Wow. Davies bicycle kick a couple yards off the mark. US attacking with intent. Me likee!
8 min: US on top right now. Let me repeat that. US on top right now. Davies rampant. Donovan turning guys. Dempsey shoots just wide. Fantastic stuff.
10 min: It's difficult to rattle the confidence of the best team in the world, but the US forays into the Spanish end could make Sergio Ramos and Capdevila think twice about heading up the flanks with the regularity they usually do.
12 min: Torres goes close soon after a Clark give-away. Can't turn it over in our half, boys.
13 min: Spain not quite as crisp as we're used to seeing them. That can change in an instant, but the US is doing a good job of disrupting their flow. Playing higher up the pitch than I thought they would.
15 min: If Jozy's gonna wear those awful blue shoes, he'd better get a brace. At minimum.
17 min: Forgot to mention Donovan's yellow. He deserved it, but it's nice to see Lanny actually go in hard on someone. Usually, he just blows lightly in their ear.
18 min: Good start. Organized in the back. Confident on the ball. Got past that magic 15 minute mark without conceding.
18 min: Howard with a huge save, but Torres is offside. Torres was also wide open in the middle.
19 min: Somebody fucking shoot the ball!
21 min: Thank you, Lanny.
21 min: Clark really having a great start to this game.
22 min: Spain looking very dangerous now. Last pass is lacking. Not for long, I bet. End-to-end action. Good stuff.
23 min: US defending in numbers and then hoofing it up the pitch. Not a recipe for success.
26 min: Are we really only 25 min, in? I'm exhausted. US defends two corners in quick succession and clears to Davies who is mauled by Puyol in a somewhat homoerotic fashion.
27 min: Goal USA! Jozy! Turns Capdevila and wrong foots Casillas who gets a hand on it, but not enough.
Oh my goodness.
29 min: I'm not sure what to do with myself right now. Who's more stunned? Me or Spain?
30 min: I was starting to doubt whether this group of US players had any sack.
30 min: Abysmal touch from El Nino. Great defending by Spector. Sergio Ramos camped out in US offensive third. Corner Spain. Corner again Spain.
32 min: Great take by Donovan, Clark gives it up too easily (possible foul), Spain gets a lucky deflection to Villa in the box, but he shoots wide and over. He does not do that very often.
35 min: US clearing headers could use some work. We'll address that on the training ground.
36 min: El Nino caught offsides for the third time. Stoppages, even this early, good for the US. Spain play at such a high tempo. Pause for wind and disrupt the flow of the game.
36 min: Donovan's free kick just inches too high for Dempsey who deads wide. Clint up for it today. Nice to see.
38 min: Spain with another lightning-quick transition, but US gets back. Just.
39 min: Torres was very nearly in there. Again, Spain is just a fraction off with the final pass.
39 min: At this point, it's time to play for halftime. Take the lead into the locker room.
40 min: Xabi Alonso whacks down Jozy. Frustration setting in? Or maybe he hates those electric blue shoes as much as I do.
42 min: US living right. Spain gives away a chance on a free kick and Gooch clears one inside the 6-yard box with Sergio Ramos lurking.
43 min: Possession is all Spain's right now. Basically what we thought the game would look like beforehand. US a little panicky with halftime looming.
25 min: As I said...Torres abuses Bocanegra, twice, but Howard gets a leg down to stop the near-post effort.
C'mon halftime whistle.
45 min: Halftime.
Seriously, I need a break. My analysis is all up there. It was all Spain the last 15 minutes. Bradley will need to find an answer or two and make the right substitutions.
I can't believe we're discussing how to hold a lead against Spain.
46 min: Spain right back on attack. Howard saves from Villa.
50 min: This is going to be a 45-minute onslaught. US needs to keep its composure. And, I think, some subs pretty soon. They look gassed.
51 min: Spaces getting huge. You might say, gaping. Another corner for Spain. That's 3 this half already.
52 min: SI's Grant Wahl reports Jozy's strike is the first goal Spain have conceded in 451 minutes. That's 5 games, for the mathematically challenged.
55 min: That central ball into Xavi is too easy now. Need to cut that off.
56 min: Speaking of SI soccer writers, I wonder if Luis Bueno feels like an idiot? He should since his last column comparing US and Mexico performances in major tourneys was not only false (by omission, as in the relative strength of the sides' groups in the last world cup for instance), but now is rendered meaningless by the US performance since publication.
58 min: US conceding the flanks, which is fine, they have to concede something, but if you're going to clog the middle, clog the fucking middle. That central ball is still there and that's what the tactics are supposed to take away.
61 min: Better now from the US. Jozy and Davies need to find space on the wings. Both standing too centrally. Make Puyol and Pique chase them around some.
64 min: Sure, it's target practice right now, but the US has played with a ton of courage tonight.
65 min: I'm thinking subs, Bob. Feilhaber for Davies, push Dempsey up top.
65 min: US blocking shots like a hockey team.
67 min: Spain does the US a great favor with those long, searching balls.
68 min: Not the best game I've seen from Fabregas.
69 min: Attaboy Bob. You know how to get on my good side. Just do what I tell ya.
72 min: Eighteen minutes, plus stoppage, from a famous victory. Keep your head, boys.
73 min: Spain showing some fatigue now. They've not been at their best, but plenty sharp everywhere but the US box.
74 min: Goal US! Dempsey! 2-0! Terrible mistake by Sergio Ramos. Dawdles in his own 6-yard-box and Clint bangs it home.
Are you kidding me?
76 min: This is beyond belief. I'm beyond believing. Remember, Spain have won 15 straight, unbeaten in 35. 35! And they're gonna lose to the USA?
79 min: Not that I'm counting chickens or anything. Bad foul by Feilhaber and Spain with a free kick in a dangerous spot.
Howard saves a rather tame effort.
80 min: Onyewu huge tonight. Man of the match.
81 min: Spain's last los: Nov. 2006. US's last loss...a week ago.
Cue up the "We Want Brazil!" chants?
82 min: It is quite refreshing to see Dempsey working his ass off. Doesn't happen often enough.
84 min: Gooch again. He's won every header n the box it has seemed.
87 min: Unbelievable. Red for Michael Bradley. Had to happen sooner or later, I suppose.
Next game without one of our more accomplished players, though I think even a yellow there would have ruled him out.
88 min: Spain keeps serving those balls into the box and Gooch keeps heading them clear. He's a man.
89 min: I have no perspective at this point. None. I have no idea how to rate or encapsulate this game. It's quite literally beyond my comprehension.
90 min: Three minutes of stoppage time. Enough time for Man U, perhaps, but few else.
90+ min: You know, Conor, you've only been on the field for like 12 minutes, perhaps you could be bothered to run a little more, considering we have 10. Just a thought. Dick.
90+ min: Just a proud effort. Lofty effort.
The US just beat the best team in the world.
That simple sentence will have to suffice for now.