BRENT LATHAM - Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The US will attempt to further its newly acquired penchant for miracle working as they face European champions and world number one Spain on Wednesday night in cold and rainy Bloemfontein.
After reaching the semifinals against all odds with a comprehensive 3-0 dismantling of Egypt, the Americans' prize is a date with the Red Fury, winners of their last 15 matches and unbeaten in a record tying 35 internationals.
As if the Spaniards weren't a stiff enough test on their own, the Americans have had only one practice since Sunday night's game, having traveled south from Rustenburg on Monday to the southern city of Bloemfontein, where the Spanish have been based for the last week.
The Americans nevertheless will come into the game loose after pulling off their stunning victory and qualification. The team enjoyed a short safari Monday morning before heading south, and has little pressure to defeat the team clearly considered the world's best at this juncture.
Coach Bob Bradley has a full squad to choose from for the first time since the Italy match, and against the Spanish attack may elect for a more defensive minded 4-5-1 similar to the lineup he chose against Italy, with Jozy Altidore again getting the start up top.
Carlos Bocanegra has returned to training after missing the first three matches, but is unlikely to replace Jay DeMerit in the center of defense.
Oguchi Onyewu will continue as a rock in the middle. The soon-to-be former Standard Liege man, who has been linked recently with Turkish club Fenerbache will likely be flanked once again by Jonathan Spector on the right and Jonathan Bornstein on the left.
In the midfield Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley will almost certainly be the central pairing, with the red hot Landon Donovan linking the midfield to the attack. Clint Dempsey will start on one of the flanks, and Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Klejstan are Bradley's likely options for the final spot if he chooses to play defensively and leave Charlie Davies on the bench.
Spain Coach Vicente Del Bosque has a wealth of rested options to choose from, having played 22 of his 23 players in first round victories over New Zealand, Iraq, and South Africa. First choices Fernando Torres and David Villa will be a handful for the US, as they try to stop the first string Spain attack that has produced goals early and often. Torres had a hat trick in the first seventeen minutes of the opening match against New Zealand.
The Spaniards insist they are not overlooking the Americans with the record breaking 36th straight unbeaten match on the line, but it will be hard for them to avoid thinking about a possible showdown with Brazil in the final on Sunday.
Win or lose, the Americans play Sunday as well. The loser of Wednesday's match heads to a consolation game against the loser of the Brazil - South Africa semifinal to be played on Thursday. The winners will meet at Ellis Park in the final in Johannesburg Sunday evening.