Five Thoughts on the auto-da-fé in Foxboro:
1. I have mixed feelings regarding Bob Bradley. On the one hand, he doesn't have a lot to work with, especially at the back. If we loom at the resumes of his defensive candidates, then it's hard to escape the conclusion that he is being asked to make chicken salad out of you-know-what. Even farther forward, he is supposed to rely on a teenager who just broke into MLS and a striker who has been a total failure in Europe. The best central midfielder on the team spent the season on the bench at Aston Villa. Outside of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and possibly Maurice Edu, it's hard to find a lot of current success stories for Yanks abroad. (Stuart Holden would be an additional success story if not for his injuries.) If Bradley wins the Gold Cup and beats a Mexico side full of players with better resumes, then we ought to laud a significant accomplishment.
On the other hand, what the hell is Bradley doing when he picks his team? Spain win matches by dominating the central midfield area. They play a 4-2-3-1, which means that they have three players in that zone. In this match, those three players were Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, and Santi Cazorla. The US is always going to have issues with players of that quality because we don't have anyone close, but Bradley made a bad situation worse by playing a 4-4-2 that had only two central midfielders. Thus, not only are Edu and Jermaine Jones inferior to the players in their zone, but they were also outnumbered. What is the point of playing two strikers if they are never going to see the ball? Jones and Edu were shockingly listless in the game, but part of their malaise has to be attributed to being given mission impossible by their manager. At best, Bradley was deploying the formation that he is going to use against easier marks in the Gold Cup, but if that's the case, then why even play this game if you are going to serve your players up to the lions?
1a. Two execution metaphors so far. That ought to tell you how well the match went.
2. Was it me or did it seem as if either the ball was underinflated or the grass was too long at Gillette Stadium? The ball kept dying in the grass. Maybe this was by design to prevent Spain from playing their normal passing game. If so, then gee, imagine what the result would have been with balls that actually rolled properly?
3. Santi Cazorla's two goals raise an interesting point for Spain: is he a better fit in the central attacking midfield role than Xavi? The middle man in the band of three in a 4-2-3-1 should generally be able to provide the killer final ball and also crash the box to score. Xavi can obviously do the former, but he's not noted for the latter. Last summer, Vicente del Bosque often started matches with Xavi in the forward role and then he pulled him back into the defensive band of two with a player like Cesc Fabregas moving into Xavi's old spot. This usually worked better for Spain. It's hard to argue with a World Cup-winning manager, but shouldn't he just start matches with Xavi farther back and a goal-scoring threat like Cesc or Cazorla farther forward.
4. Kudos to ESPN for showing the national anthems before the match. ESPN's commitment to proper coverage of Pepidemiology, International Edition stands in stark contrast to both Fox Soccer Channel and Univision. Univision is usually good in this department, but they skipped the anthems before Mexico-El Salvador last night, causing tears of rage on the part of my anthem-obsessed four-year old son. (Thank goodness for YouTube.) Maybe Univision can be excused because the Mexico match was the second half of a double-header and they needed to squeeze in ads between the games. Fox Soccer Channel has no such excuse for skipping the anthems before England-Switzerland. In keeping with their inability to show anything interesting before and after matches, Fox Soccer had a narrator providing useless commentary before the match, but did not show the anthems. If you are going to be blind Anglophiles, then the least you could do is show "G-d Save the Queen," which is typically the high point for an England match.
4a. Has there been a bigger upgrade in a media position than ESPN going from Mark Shapiro to John Skipper? ESPN Hollywood to Ian Darke? It's the broadcasting version of Greg Robinson to Greg Mattison.
5. It's true that Spain was missing a number of first-choice players, but in a way, it's more dangerous to play the second-team guys because Spain are very deep and those second-teamers are going to be highly motivated to prove themselves. Don't you think that Raul Albiol, Santi Cazorla, and Alvaro Negredo were trying to leave an impression with del Bosque? It might have been better to go up against Xavi and Iniesta, neither of whom could have been super-motivated.