Yeah, so, this happened:
The logic of scheduling a friendly with Spain—the world champions and a team looking to avenge a defeat to the U.S.—just three days before the start of the most important competition of the year was always doubtful.
We could see playing, say, Venezuela or Ecuador that day, or, if it had to be a European opponent, how about Luxembourg or the Faroe Islands? Spain just made no sense.
Bob Bradley clearly felt the same way, starting a makeshift lineup of inexperienced players while leaving veterans Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan (who was ill, but probably wouldn’t have started if he’d been healthy), Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey on the bench for the opening whistle.
The youngsters got embarrassed, and the question of whether it was a good “learning experience” for them is debatable.
So let’s just crumple that one up, toss it over the shoulder and look ahead to tonight’s Gold Cup opener against Canada (7:30, EDT, Fox Soccer Channel):
• Alejandro Bedoya, who’s been in camp for a week or so and played 25 minutes against Spain, has officially replaced the injured Benny Feilhaber (ankle) on the U.S. roster. The former Boston College attacker is off to a great start with Orebro in Sweden, scoring four goals in 10 games. He had two assists and a goal in his last game with the club before joining the U.S. camp. See here (nice backheel on the second goal):
• This is probably Canada’s best team, ever. The roster is stocked with solid MLS players, including Dwayne De Rosario (New York), Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC), Terry Dunfield (Vancouver), Andre Hainault (Houston) and Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake). The Canucks also feature several players coming off successful European campaigns, such as Simeon Jackson, who scored 13 goals in 20 games to help Norwich win the NPower Championship and promotion to the Premier League next season, and PSV Eindhoven midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who made 33 appearances and scored two goals as PSV finished third in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Winger Josh Simpson is another one to watch: He led Turkish club Manisaspor in scoring this season, bagging 12 goals from his spot on the left wing.
They’re a seasoned group with more talent than most people recognize, and they won’t be intimidated by the U.S. They’re biggest weakness is the backline, where they’re missing D.C. United centerback Dejan Jakovic (hamstring) and their wing defenders are suspect.
• Canada may have some extra motivation in this one, not that they’ll need it. The last time these two teams met, in the semifinal of the 2007 Gold Cup, Hutchinson scored an apparent equalizer in stoppage time that was disallowed for offside. Replays showed that the goal should have counted.
The U.S. won the game 2-1 and went on to beat Mexico 2-1 in the final on (we’ll take any excuse to re-post it) Feilhaber’s golazo:
You can bet the Canucks will have the ’07 game in the back of their minds, regardless of what they say publicly.
The U.S. will have to be up for it, and ready to match Canada’s intensity right from the opening whistle.
• It seems likely that Tim Ream, who went the full 90 against Spain, will not feature in the U.S. backline tonight, which leaves Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, and Carlos Bocanegra as the top options in central defense (followed by Jonathan Spector and Maurice Edu).
Onyewu looked lost against Spain, and if Canada starts the speedy, 5’ 5” Jackson up top, the U.S. may not want two 6’ 4” centerbacks (Gooch and Goodson) in their starting lineup. We’d go with Bocanegra and Goodson in the middle, Cherundolo on the right and Jonathan Bornstein on the left (hey, the options there are—still—fairly thin, and Bornstein has the speed to stay with Jackson).
• Tidbit: Canadian midfielder Will Johnson and Michael Bradley were teammates on the Chicago Soccers youth team, also the onetime home of Spector and Jay DeMerit.
What do you think of the matchup? Who should start for the U.S.? Any chance Bedoya gets the nod in midfield and Dempsey starts up top? Let us know in the comments.