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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. I feel like Spector has to be given consideration as well he not only shut down reira but played amazing for us all tournament

  2. I agree with the selection with only one missing. Bob Bradley. For all the second guessing of his tactics in previous games (most glaring being Costa Rica), there is no doubt that his tactics were impeccable…clogging the middle to force Spain out wide…concentrating on shutting down Xavi…Boca out to the left…Feilhaber off the bench…strong defensive positioning while still aggressively attaching the goal (this was the biggest difference between the Spain victory and the ’06 draw with Italy)

  3. Someone has probably already said it . but credit where credit is due. Gooch didn’t just win everything in the air. He won everything that came anywhere within his vicinity.

  4. USA played as a team and came up with a great effort. But I think we have to be honest. Spain was unlucky. I hate to think what the result would be if this was a derby instead of one and done.

    Two biggests points to make of this match are:

    1) USA took advantage of the luck giving them

    2) No reason it can’t happen again and let’s hope they remain lucky in South Africa, next year.

  5. It is always irritating to read some posters obsessing about the numbers of jerseys exchanged as a measure of other teams’ “class”. There are many reasons why some do and some don’t. It is not an issue.

  6. IVES,

    Make a push for people to vote this for best Upset at the ESPYs. The nomminees came out today and go figure the USA vs Spain game made the cut.

  7. @TimN- boca isn’t getting the center back spot back from demerit.

    @KevNYC- i don’t know if there were times that donovan had to let mcbride cover for him. but i can’t decide if the game yesterday or the italy game is the most i have ever seen anyone run in a match. still can picture donovan running at italy late in the game. unbelievable performance.

  8. Couldn’t agree more with your analysis, Ives…the players you mentioned all played their roles perfectly. And Donovan was an absolute beast – at this point in his career, it’s hard to say he’s not the best player in US history.

    One other thing this game reminds me of, and that was how we won games in the 2002 Cup. The US isn’t in the same league technically with any of the top 20 countries; we’ll rarely win a game that way. But where we can match up with nearly anyone in the world is physically – we can outrun, outmuscle, and outjump so many teams. And that’s how we won today. Altidore outmuscled Capdevilla for the first goal, Donovan & Davies outran everyone all day long, and Gooch outjumped every Spanish player in the box. Notice we set our strategy up around this – make Spain cross into the box, use Donovan’s speed to counter-attack, try to get long through balls for Davies, and let Jozy fight for position and try to finish chances. And we gave the best team in the world fits all day…

    If the US can remember who they are (and more importantly, who they aren’t – a great technical team) like this more often, we’re on our way…

  9. Torres, although dejected and downright exhausted, was gracious in defeat. He swapped jerseys with Gooch, appropriately. don’t know who the other one was, but like Landon said, I too have lost respect for the majority of Espana’s players; but also gained more respect for Torres.

    This is another way we beat them: with class. an aggressive, gritty team with class! sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. i was raised playing like that – always offer a hand, pat on the back after the game.

    USA did this. And this is worth mentioning. the instant replays would show Gooch/DeMerit/Boca picking up a player they knocked down, often with a smile. Howard too. You have to *respect* a defense that not only shuts you down, but avoids rubbing it in your face. I think I saw Gooch picking up Torres off the ground like 10x.

    True class.

  10. Bob: I agree on the offsides call you are referring to on Casey. There were a few others as well in both halves that were terrible calls against us.

    Hopefully DeMerit’s play has ended Bradley’s crazy idea of using Califf before DeMerit. Its clearly taken Bradley 2 years to realize DeMerit is clearly the 3rd best option in central defense. And I think after this tournament you have to say Spector is slightly ahead of Cherundolo for the right back spot. Stick with this back 4 for a long time…

    Donovan did play great–I wish he would do that every game. And shoot more!!!!

  11. Looking back at this match, I also have to think of it interms of the greatest U.S. wins ever. My tops would be as follows:

    1) USA 1, T&T 0, WCQ 1989; back in the WC for the 1st time in 40 years…HUGE

    2) USA 1, England 0, WC 1950; still one of the greatest, if not THE greatest upsets of all time in the WC

    3) USA 2, Mexico 0, WC 2002; into the quarters for the first time in 72 years, and our best finish since 1930

    4) USA 3, Portugal 2, WC 2002; monumental upset of a pre-tournament favorite

    5) USA 2, Colombia, 1, WC 1994; advance to the 2nd round & begin the era of resurgence for U.S. Soccer

  12. @deuce,

    Going with Bornstein is mainly due to the speed issue that we will face with our likely opponent, Brazil. However, obviously Demerit has been incredible, and would certainly deserve to start. I’m also not sure if an outside left back position is natural for him.

  13. 20 hours later – still WOW

    With Mike out can Torres finally play? Especially that he is NOT on the Gold Cup roster.

    Kudos to all posters – this forum is one of the best.

  14. Erik, but were those amateur hockey players any good? Did they deserve more respect than they got before the game? Did they, perhaps, deserve to be on a professional team, but nobody took them seriously? Well, I feel it relates nicely to the USMNT. We have all known that we have high caliber players: adu, altidore, donovan, dempsey, howard, onyewu, boca, bradley, etc etc.
    however, how many of them play on the top teams? 1. How many could? I dunno, but more than 1. Donovan gets no respect outside of U.S. Altidore certainly doesn’t get ANY respect, but he deserves it. So this group that is not respected outside the U.S. (and sometimes hardly here) did what only they knew they could. It is a shocking result, and they stunned the world. Should they have gotten more respect before the game? Perhaps. did they? no. Is it the miracle on grass to those who didn’t know? Maybe so.

  15. As I’ve said before… this team will go as far as Donovan and Dempsey will take them.

    If you have the Brazil/Egypt/Spain games recorded, look at the US players’ eyes coming out of the tunnel and during the anthem. Night and day!

    I told my better half, before the game started: “Look at thier eyes, look at the intensity… If we score first, it’s over.”

    Don’t know what was said or done, or by whom, but… WOW!

  16. Incredible performance from those 5.

    Donovan’s effort was second to none.

    It will be impossible to replace Bradly for the final which is a shame. That was a near perfect game for him. I can’t fault him for being aggressive in that tackle, because that is a huge part of what makes him good. I can fault the ref for an inexcusably bad call. To me, it’s not even in the neighborhood of a foul. He made a strong play on the ball. End of story. Any contact with the opposing team came after he had cleanly tackled the ball.

  17. second, anyone see this in the longman’s article in the NY times:

    In the end, the Spanish players left the field without the customary exchange of jerseys.

    “Whatever, it’s not my worry,” Donovan said. “They’re not used to losing. I can see why they would be frustrated. But I did lose a little respect for them for that.”

    But if you look at the end of the highlight reel ives posted earlier, you see two American players with Spanish jersey’s in their hands during the post-game celebrations.

    sup with landon after the game, then, saying this? because they didn’t want to share with him. thoughts?

  18. donovan is a great player, i like him and he played very well yesterday but regarding the italy 2006 wc match, maybe i need to see that match again. i was at that game and i can think of at least two or three times late in the match when mcbride had chased back but donovan was just occupying space in midfield, not getting back, hustling etc. anyone else?

  19. Ives, you are spot on in your articles about the game yesterday. I don’t know how you are capable of calming your nerves enough to write a piece like you have, but I commend you. I still can’t put my happiness into words, or analysis.

    I just hope the Landon-haters will second guess their criticism of him in the past. I’ll agree he has dissappeared in big games, but he can’t do it all for the team every single game. I also think Bradley has put him in the best position for him to succeed lately. Him playing as a forward or top of the diamond midfield just doesn’t cut it, he HAS to be on the outside, always.


  20. No problem Turtle, I think Torres and Gooch exchanged Jerseys. They knew each other from Champions League Qualifying where Gooch shut him down there as well for Liege.

  21. @WK

    I am not saying Bradley didn’t play a good game, but I do think it was his worst of the tournament. Go back and look at the game, Bradley was just a tad bit off on the day.

    As for the Xavi getting those balls, we did collapse on him and then he would play balls out to the wings and Spain would have free service. It caused a lot of trouble that could have been stopped if they had not been so flat.

  22. 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.

    Posted by: JRhode | June 25, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    Yeah that’s exactly what I was thinking, it was absolutely no where near a red. I hope that USA can appeal because the replay gave and excellent look into the play and it clearly shows that it was not a red.

  23. well TomG is out of line with the name calling of course, but BSsoccer is wrong all the same. Bradley had his ‘worst match of the tournament’ and was ‘non-existent for large chunks’ !? what the hell game was he watching? i did however have the same concerns initially with how xavi would simply slide between MB & Rico, get a nice pass and turn on our back 4. but then, did you notice how fast the defense always collapsed around him? it was like they were setting a trap at times…

  24. Erik – I heard that on LD’s interview with Dan patrick this morning. But it’s not entirely true. If you look at the screen shot on Ives post – the highlights – you will see a shirtless Gooch with a red jersey in his hand. Some of the Spain team showed some class….

  25. I think I agree w/ Casillas on all fronts, haha. We would probably win 1 out of 10 times. He did go on to say that the US deserved to win, so it wasn’t disrespectful. Spain played better, had more possession, created more chances. I don’t think Capdevila made a glaring mistake – I just think he was soundly beaten by Jozy’s strength. Ramos lost his mind on Dempsey’s goal, though.

  26. I can’t help but think after this game that Boca has lost his central defense spot to DeMerit for good. DeMerit looked spectacular against two of the best strikers in the world. Some hurried clearances but otherwise there is nothing that can be critisized about his game. I am a huge Dempsey fan and think he deserves man of the match for his part in the 2 goals but DeMerit is so close in my eyes. He was everywhere and has been all tournament.

  27. Ives – right on. Our middle was incredible.

    Even Del Bosque said that Spain was limited to play on the wings due to our middle being too difficult to break down. For me that quote alone…the coach of Spain…the number one team in the world….THEIR coach said OUR team…the USA, the USA…FORCED them…and all their virtuosity…to alter THEIR style of play….to have to play a game of hopeful crosses….


  28. @Michael,

    NO, it’s not a “foregone conclusion” that Kljestan starts. I would say it’s very unlikely. I think we’ll see Feilhaber get the nod.

    My prediction for Sunday’s game, obviously not knowing the opponent right now, would be:





  29. Torres acted classier than the rest most of his Spanish teammates did on the field after the final whistle. None Few of the Spanish players stuck around to trade jerseys afterward. “They just walked off the field,” said Donovan, who’s used to such displays from Mexico. “Whatever. It’s not my worry. They’re upset. They’re going to the third-place game, and they’re not used to losing. So I can see why they would be frustrated, but I lose a little respect for them for that.”

  30. freddie,

    He’s right. The us had to play a perfect game and get some lucky breaks, which is EXACTLY what happened. You may not like it, and it is a bit direspectful coming after a 2-0 loss, but everythign he’s saying is true

  31. I agree with the previous comment that Donovan’s fitness level is super-human. He was all over the place. I think that Howard’s remarkable saves should be mentioned as well. When the D did allow Spain to get shots, Howard turned them all away.

    I was curious as to the reaction amongst European/Spanish media outlets. Ives, got anything to post on that?

  32. And for everyone calling this a “Miracle on Grass” is being total disrespectful to the US team.

    The Miracle on Ice was the US against the Soviet Union. Hated enemies, the best hockey team in the world playing against….

    wait for it…


    The US Soccer Team aren’t amateurs so enough of this Miracle on Grass.

  33. It was an incredible game by the US squad and the Spanish media is taken by the physical display of our players. That and the discipline to carry out a game plan. The most talked about players are the center mids and Bradley.

    Regardless of what happens in the finals, DeMerit and Gooch should see their stock rise by their performances. The latter one should have waited until the end of the tournament to weigh his options instead of signing for the Turkish team.



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