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USA 2, Spain 0: A look back

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It is amazing what can be done when a team plays with no fear and a perfect game plan.

The U.S. national team showed no fear in facing the seemingly unbeatable Spanish national team on Wednesday. The Americans didn't waver at the sight of an opposing lineup worth probably half a billion on the open market. They focused only on their game plan and carrying out to perfect because that was the only way they were going to win.

The result was eleven players coming together to stop the unstoppable. How did they do it?

They wrecked Spain's engine with five players who frustrated, fought and closed down one of the best attacks in soccer history. Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark and Landon Donovan did their best impressions of engine gunk, causing Spain's offense to stall and struggle, while Tim Howard stepped up and cleaned up the handful of chances that were still bound to come against a team as dangerous as Spain.

The outcome was a shutout. Against Spain. Yes, that Spain.

There is plenty of credit to go around for Wednesday's win, from Clint Dempsey for his own defensive work and clutch offensive contributions, to Jozy Altidore for his impressive turn and finish, to the tireless effort of fullbacks Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector. What should be focused on is the work of the five players mentioned above because it was their work that ultimately stopped Spain.

You can start with Bradley and Clark, who were considered to have no chance in central midfield against the wizardry of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso. Bradley and Clark didn't stay back and give too much respect to the Spanish playmakers. Instead, they closed them down, cut off their passing lanes and got the ball into the U.S. counterattack quickly when they intercepted passes.

The play that best illustrated their work was late in the second half, when Bradley closed down Xavi and stripped him of the ball. That ball found Benny Feilhaber, who's slick work on the ball led to Clint Dempsey's goal.

While Bradley and Clark were fighting Spain's magical midfield, Onyewu and DeMerit were busy containing the most expensive forward tandem in the world. Onyewu dominated everything in the air while DeMerit played the game of his career, showing perfect anticipation and vision to put himself in the right position to stop Spain attackers over and over. The pair made dozens of clutch tackles and made life difficult for Villa and Torres in a way no one had in years.

Even with Onyewu, DeMerit, Bradley and Clark doing all the work to shut things down in the middle of the field, they still needed help and that help came from Donovan, who served as the roving player in midfield who helped apply pressure on the ball and helped close down passing lanes. Donovan work tirelessly on the defensive end, but still had the energy to jump into the counterattack repeatedly.

His unbelievable effort brought back memories of his showing against Italy in the 2006 World Cup, when the United States had to play Italy a man down. On that night, Donovan was all over the field, sacrificing his own offensive contributions for the good of the team. On Wednesday, Donovan had that same defensive intensity, but was also able to test Spain's defense repeatedly with confident possession and purposeful runs forward, runs like the one that led to his pass on Dempsey's goal.

In short, Donovan was everywhere.

Make no mistake, Wednesday's victory was a complete team effort, but when looking at how the Americans were able to shut out Spain, with all its mega-million superstars, you can point to the tireless, fearless and world-class defensive work of Onyewu, DeMerit, Bradley, Clark and Donovan.

What did you think of the work of this Fab Five? Share your thoughts below.


  1. At what point do we turn our attention the finals? Now that Bradley is out, is a foregone conclusion that Sasha will start in his place? Can Bradley really start Adu?

  2. Nice that Spain didn’t exchange Jerseys. I saw some being exchanged but smacks of Mexico’s arrogance in losing.

    Hat’s off the the team – they had the perfect game plan to beat spain. Force the play out wide where tiny David Villa would never win a header against Gooch or Demerit. I knew coming into this game we had a chance and I predicted a 1-0 win with Altidore getting the game winner.

    Soccer always happens like this. The player who doesn’t get to play (Altidore for Villareal) gets shipped somewhere else only to come back to bite the team who didn’t want him. This is a different case, but it’s against Spain, not Villareal.

  3. IVES, Please, Please BAN posters on here that insist on calling others idiots and such. This board can handle disagreements but definitely without the childishness.

  4. any chance any of them land on a big team in Europe, if Marquez can start for Barça, why not Onyewu at a big time team too?

  5. DeMerit has been solid throughout the tournament and has been very solid for Watford for a number of years. There has to be an EPL team that is at least inquiring about his services.

  6. Two of the three cards were justified in my book. Clark went in late and high – he was above Gattuso’s knee, for crying out loud. No, there was no malicious intent, but that’s what happens when you challenge late. Kljestan’s red came off a two-footed lunge – I had no problem with him being sent off. Bradley’s was iffy, especially since he got the ball first. But as Japan said, that tackle at that point in the came was completely unnecessary.

    We have to play a little smarter, and realize there is a time and place for lunging tackles and a time and place to hold your ground.

  7. @Mike

    With Bradley’s red card, there has to be another option off the bench in MF with Feilhaber now probably starting. BB will more than likely stick with Davies at Forward and leave Dempsey at MF. So my lineup is more wishful thinking. But Torres or Adu have to see time off the bench don’t they? What other MF options do we have Beasley and Sacha? Come on please BB don’t let them see the pitch again this tournament.

  8. Not to diminish the US victory which is probably the best thing since the invention of beer and pop rocks…but I wanted to follow up with other peoples comments about the straight reds that the USA has been receiving.

    Is there not anything that can be petitioned to FIFA to ask them to explain the irregularities in card decisions by it’s referees. We’ve had x many FIFA sponsored games including Gold Cup and CONCACAF WC Qualifying games without a straight red and then we play on more of a world stage for 4 games and 3 of those games we receive straight red cards. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    In the 3 games where we received straight reds, Italy, Brazil, and Spain, I’m sure some one could find cases where players from Italy, Brazil and Spain did the same type of tackle against a US player and the same red card penalty was not given. These brash and sometimes inconsistent decisions by FIFA referees seem to becoming more common, ie WC2006, and I would like to see something done about it before the next world cup.

  9. I said this before on another post but I will say it again. We showed that we can play with the best but the biggest challenge now is if we can consistently play at that level. I will say this even if we beat Brazil/SA on Sunday because this is momentum, not consistency. Our back 5 was immense and so was Donovan. Bradly, Clark, and Dempsey were great as well. I am still not sold on Altidore and Davies. Both of them cannot hold the ball at all. Altidore showed good strength on the goal but his finishing was poor. USA still needs a lot of work going foward as the 2 goals were gifted and besides that and the the first 5 mintues, we had no shots. Falihaber needs to be starting. Bradley’s tackle was never a red but why is he going into tackles like that in that situation? It was unnecessary.

  10. Not trying to make a habit of disagreeing with you but I don’t think Bradley should be included with the others. Yesterday was his worst match of the tournament. He was non existent for large chunks of the game and his through balls were off.

    Also, Clark and Bradley were too flat and because of this, we were exposed a lot. Harkes eluded to it in his telecast but one pass was beating both of them and Spain was finding a lot of space between our centermids and our centerbacks.

  11. It’s still too early to say, with the final having yet been contested. But, if he has a solid game in the final, Landon should get serious consideration as the MVP of the entire tournament.

  12. Ives makes a good point on the Dempsey goal that Bradley made it happen by stripping the ball and passing to Feilhaber. An additional key factor in that goal that Ives didn’t mention was it all started with Dempsey pressuring the ball, knocking the lose ball towards Xavi under the pressure of Bradley, allowing the play to happen.

    I hate seeing Bradley forced to miss the final, though I’m excited to see Feilhaber start again because he’s shown his class on the ball, not just his control before laying the ball off to Donovan on the goal.

    I used to be against Bocanegra on the left, because previous attempts with the US and with Fulham generally didn’t end well, but who knows this may work, and I’ve always been a fan of DeMerit’s play at Watford, so getting the best four defenders on the field can’t be a bad thing.

  13. MAES –

    Adu and Torres haven’t played a minute yet – there’s no reason to think that they will in this game.

    Marc –

    Your point has not really been mentioned at all – by forcing Spain out wide, Bradley effectively did 3 things: took away Spain’s considerable strength (midfield play), made them play to their weakness (wing play) and made Spain play directly to the US’s strength (balls in the air). I thought it was a great coaching job, although he could have made some subs a bit sooner. Everyone was completely gassed.

  14. Well said Ives. @ mike ruze – I assume you are being sarcastic in your post about US dominance just because we played 2 good games in a row? Anyhow I absolutely agree that playing two strikers is one of the main differences in the US lineup since the Italy game. I throw the Brazil game out the window because they are playing on a different level that no team is going to comprhend anytime soon, now they might beat themselves with mistakes and lacks effort, but no team is beating Brazil the way they are playing now. Back to the two forwards point though. As well is Davies has played for us, he really only contributes aggression and speed, he unbalances a slow footed defense. All good qualities but not always something that will work, especially against a speedy defense/athletic defense like Brazil. We need to see this lineup against Brazil in the final. 4-1-3-2






    Dempsey is obviously more effective at forward, we are sacrificing Davies, but as I mentioned already I don’t know how effective he would be against an equally speedy and physical brazil defense. Adu has to play against Brazil, I don’t know how else to say it. His creativity is what we need to unlock a team like Brazil. If he can’t run for 90 than we need to see Torres for 30 in the 2nd half. Feilhaber is the obvious replacement for Bradley. Otherwise it a simliar shape to the Spain game.

  15. i think donovan is in a difficult situation. if he waits to transfer until the winter, he will be joining a new team mid-season, which is a huge risk. those months preceding the world cup will be critical, and we can’t afford to have him off form. he needs to find a new team before the next european season begins.

  16. Bob –

    Not only was Casey incredibly onside, Donovan was as well at the end of the first half.

    Although, Torres was completely onside as well in the first half – that could have changed everything. He wasn’t even – he was actually behind (in front of?) Demerit.

  17. I heard a British announcer once describe Dani Alves when he was with Sevilla as “a one-man band.” It’s a great visual; a guy with cymbals strapped to his knees, a drum set on his back, standing in front of a keyboard, playing harmonica – a guy doing it all. Donovan had been playing like a one-man band this tournament. He’s got skills, but also much heart. Like someone else said, I hope he gets a great offer from a club that can use him.

  18. mike — totally agree. the US has several midfielders and no obvious spots for them. its a good problem to have, and i think we need that depth because our central midfielders have shown a propensity to pick up cards (whether warranted or not)

  19. The reason we won the game was we showed we could score early: davies BK and Dempsey’s near miss were a testament to our ability to attack.

    I really am tired of US soccer writers who invariably shout DEFENCE.

    The US played a complete game: they insisted on attacking, and worked together defensively tirelessly.

    Finally we see Donovan and Dempsey working together rewarded by the final goal. These two took turns getting the ball, switching laterally before the first goal. Donovan showed a willingness to get physical, and Dempsey showed better integration with the team in space and timing.

  20. I’d like to point out for the second straight game, Jozy had the ball near the penalty spot with a clear shot on goal, and did nothing but blast it directly at the keeper (as he did against Egypt). The pace of the ball, and Casillas leaning, made it impossible to stop, but Jozy needs to start learning placement instead of power (see Torres’ first goal against New Zealand, when he deftly put the ball in the upper 90).

    The US is starting to have a “problem” that isn’t that bad to have – a glut of midfielders who all bring different strengths to the table. For all the good defensive work that Clark put in, he’s still incredibly limited offensively, as evidenced by his wild shots and hurried passes. Jones would be a huge upgrade on him. Feilhaber showed he NEEDS to be on the field – he’s one of the few Americans to be completely at ease with the ball at his feet (he came in, and immediately settled everything down when he got the ball). His run to start the second goal was something not recently seen by an American – I definitely watched him beat Ramos, Pique, and Puyol (at the same time) over and over on slow-motion. We need more creativity like that to unlock stingy defenses. I think our best lineup would be to put Dempsey and Altidore at forward, Donovan and Feilhaber on the wings, and Jones and Bradley in the middle. Jones’ defensive work would free up Bradley to go forward a bit, and not run himself so ragged.

    I hate to say it, but it currently doesn’t look like there’s a place for Torres, Adu, or Edu on a regular basis, outside of subs (Edu for Bradley, Adu for Dempsey/Feilhaber, Torres for Feilhaber/Bradley). On the bright side, the 2014 WC should be really, really fun to watch if you’re an American fan.

  21. credit to bob bradley too. having the backs and wide midfielders pinch in and inviting spain to launch hopeful crosses was brilliant strategy. of course, his players executed, which is always key to making a coach look good or bad.

  22. Everyone desreves credit for last night including Coach Bradley.

    I’d still like to see Bradley be more inclined to move beyond a core of 14 or so players. For instance including a Torres in August in Azteca as a player sure to be less intimidated by that atmosphere. Look at the circumstances it took to get DeMerit included in the central pairing. I’d like him to see that on his own. Look how long he has stuck with Beasley and Klejstan despite terrible form for club AND country.

    Yesterday, was a great day that I will always remember but even coaches that win titles in the biggest leagues in the world are sent packign so i don’t think one two game run does a coach completely validate.

    I will not be calling for his head immediately but I do expect him to learn as his players seem to be doing.

  23. I’ve got to think that, among others, the careers (and $$$) of DeMerit and Jozy are going to skyrocket based just on their performances against Spain.

  24. donovan was immense. the guy was possessed yesterday. hopefully this instills confidence in the squad that they can play with and BEAT the best in the world.

  25. Wages is one thing, what about market value (before the tournament)?

    It’s gotta be something like 120 million Euros to 25 million.

    You could put the whole US team up for sale and still not get El Nino’s left leg.

  26. In total agreement about Donovan’s great contribution, but two things make me cringe a little bit: the diving and the picture of him jumping into Bocanegra’s arms. Awesome, memorable picture, but I can’t look at it without thinking, “Watch the hammy!”

  27. Yep…Donovan was insane…at one point late in the game, he started the counter and laid the ball off for dempsey. But Dempsey couldnt keep up with him, and thus it was a turn over. Donovans conditioning was so superior to everyone else on the feild. It was incredible to see him run yesterday.

  28. The Gold Cup group…..

    Goalkeepers: Jon Busch (Chicago), Troy Perkins (Valerenga, Norway), Luis Robles (Kaiserslautern, Germany).

    Defenders: Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City), Clarence Goodson (Start, Norway), Jay Heaps (New England), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland, Denmark), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock, Germany).

    Midfielders: Davy Arnaud (Kansas City), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Colin Clark (Colorado), Sam Cronin (Toronto), Brad Evans (Seattle), Stuart Holden (Houston), Logan Pause (Chicago), Robbie Rogers (Columbus).

    Forwards: Freddy Adu (Monaco, France), Brian Ching (Houston), Kenny Cooper (Dallas), Charlie Davies (Hammarby, Sweden), Santino Quaranta (D.C. United).

  29. I’m still speechless, I think everyone that is a US fan now has to give this team and Bob Bradley all the credit they deserve. Regardless of formations or substitutions or whatever, I don’t think we can judge anything until after the world cup next year. Until then I think we should all just enjoy the ride…They aren’t going to win every game, but if they play with the passion they did yesterday then its going to be tough for any team to beat them. I have no idea how to fathom losing the first 2 games but winning the last 2 so I am just going to shut up and cheer them on each game.

  30. the effort on the field was incredible… and uh @mike roze… there is NO WAY we will be a world number one within the next year. as much as the win was incredible, spain is still the better team.

  31. Anyone know the comparisons of club wages between the 2 teams? I imagine that our starting XI total wages is only 20% of the ESP starting XI.

  32. Davies brings the confidence we were completely lacking. Of course, speed helps.

    The only dark side to this performance is that I can imagine that some clubs would really want to sign Donovan considering the results we’ve been getting. Then they look at the second goal and they say, “Well, was that supposed to be a cross?”

    Don’t want to take away from a great overall performance. Just saying.

    If I had to make a player rating (10 being perfect), I’d give them all 11’s.

  33. Two terrible calls at the end of the match that may not get the attention they deserve because everyone was so high with the potential of a victory and a clean sheet.

    Shortly after Casey entered the match, he was flagged offsides even though he was very clearly ONSIDES by not only one player, but two players. It wasn’t even close. Then, as I remember it, the ball went back the other way and Bradley was VERY HARSHLY redcarded. So instead of a Casey in a 1v1 with Casillas, Bradley makes a fairly legit challenge and misses the finals.

    Can we discuss this? I wish I was able to share with you all the still that I was able to get on my TiVo of the ball being released to Casey with two Spanish defenders keeping him onside but throwing their hands up for a call nonetheless.

  34. I was a vocal critic of Landon Donovan until about 18 months ago. He’s made me a believer. Hope he can move onto La Liga now so he can play against, and practice with, world-class players on a daily basis.

  35. Sorry for the repeated posts, but has anyone seen video of the crazy scorpion kick type thing Gooch (i think?) used to clear out the ball by our goal? I can’t find it anywhere and I would love to see it again.

  36. I think you are spot on in your analysis, Ives. I thought Donovan had an incredible game. The only (very small) quibble that I had of the team in the first half is that I thought our forwards should have run at the Spanish defense MORE and paid them less respect. Everyone of the MNT forwards was significantly faster than their Spanish counterparts and it was obvious the Spanish were having trouble containing them but it seemed that our forwards were too quick to back off or not make a run at them at times. I guess maybe I had more confidence in them than they did in themselves, but hopefully this game will instill more of that in them, it should have!!

  37. This how we started beating Mexico. Counterattacks. That evolved to taking the game to them to dominating them now.

    I expect that the formula will work with Spain also. We beat the number one team in the world by two goals.

    So we are twice as good as Spain and the new heavyweight Champions of the world. Can wait to see us get that number 1 seed for next years world cup go to the US.

    Now had Jermaine jones played we would have won probably 5-0.

    Also anyone think its a coincidence that the two games we won were when we played with two forwards and the second forward was Charlie Davies. Both coaches were shocked by the pressure

  38. Sorry if I missed this in the other posts, but any chance of appealing Bradley’s red? Saw the replay several times, might have been a foul, nothing more.

  39. Donovan’s fitness level is near super-human. Whatever he does to stay in shape should be used for the rest of the team.

    Really was a great team effort. Coach got them ready to play, and they executed. Did they have a little luck as well, of course, but that’s all part of soccer.

    Spain had a great run and will likely be the favorite to win the World Cup, but for one day the US beat the best team in the world in a game that meant something.

    Per an earlier post, I really hope our team can use these games to build confidence and really feel like they can beat anyone anywhere.

  40. I’m still not jumping to the Bob Bradley Bandwagon and I still think he need to put the player in the right place, Soon we will get Jones on this national team so we have to sacrified a midfield player. I would move Dempsey as a striker. Anyways But I did enjoy how set up this team and how this team played with balls, heart & pride. Now is time to play the same way all the way thru. Gold Cup is coming and we have a new call up and than is Mexico.


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