FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The world’s greatest team got an easy ride Saturday, as its opponent rolled over and started its summer at home in the worst possible fashion.
Spain’s 4-0 hammering of the United States at Gillette Stadium was, in one sense, simply the reigning World Cup champion flexing its muscles and proving why it is the best in the business.
Even so, there should be some concern in the American camp, not so much due to the result but more the way in which the team was utterly dominated and surrendered without enough of a fight.
Heading into the Gold Cup next week, Bob Bradley’s side was hoping for some positive signs from this not-so-friendly friendly, but ended up with nothing more than the painful memories of a brutal spanking.
“Spain is a great team,” Bradley said. “It is a tough test to play them any time. We have always chosen to take these kind of challenges and to play the best teams and it is the best way, to see what the game at the highest level is like, and to improve.
“When you challenge yourself against the best teams, you have to expect difficult moments. If we couldn’t handle that, we wouldn’t play them.”
Bradley tried to put a brave face on the outcome, but in reality, he must have been hoping for more. A recent friendly at home against Argentina in April ended in a solid 1-1 draw and gave genuine reason for optimism. By contrast, this rammed home the truth that Bradley’s men are light years away from the most elite level.
Sure, Landon Donovan was absent and Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley were rested from the starting lineup. But Spain had several elite players missing, too, yet was still able to run riot and put the game to bed well before the end of the first half.
Everywhere they looked, the Spanish players were able to find space. Santi Cazorla was left open to provide the opening goal 28 minutes in after a fine pass from David Silva, while a long ball from Xabi Alonso led Alvaro Negredo perfectly for the second score four minutes later.
Cazorla added his second and Spain’s third just before halftime, at which time the American defense was utterly befuddled. The rash of substitutions common in friendly games took place at halftime, and substitute Fernando Torres wrapped things up for the visitors with a well-taken late strike.
While Spain merrily rolls on to another friendly against Venezuela on Tuesday, Bradley’s squad needs to get its head straight before taking on Canada in the Gold Cup opener on the same night.
The Canadians are not a particularly strong side and the USA will go into the clash at Detroit’s Ford Field a heavy favorite, but will still need to lifts its spirits and performance level.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque admitted he had expected more from the team that beat his side in the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup.
“There was not only that result but also some of the USA’s recent games were good,” Del Bosque said. “So we were expecting a difficult time, but today we dominated.”
For Del Bosque’s men it wasn’t really about revenge for 2009 or any kind of signal of intent ahead of next year’s European Championships. It was just Spain being Spain, showing why this team belongs shoulder-to-shoulder with the all-time greats.
Just as Manchester United’s defeat at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League final was more about the brilliance of one team rather than the weakness of another, that was also the case here.
This result was not cause for opening up a grand investigation into what is wrong with American soccer, it is merely a look at how Bradley’s team needs to start performing with a bit more vigor and cohesion.
With the Gold Cup on home soil, the Americans have a chance to grab some public attention if they can go all the way in the tournament and show themselves as the dominant force in this region once again.
But the early signs, even against a team which makes a living by outshining all who cross its path, were not great.