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Two words, one seemingly impossible task. Not just for the U.S. national team, which faces the European champions on Wednesday (2:25pm, ESPN/Univision), but seemingly for any team these days.
So how will the Americans pull off an upset? The better question is how will the United States measure up? Will the U.S. team push Spain for 90 minutes, as they did in last year's 1-0 loss to Spain? Or will they make costly mistakes and lose badly to another world power?
The U.S. team could choose to bunker in, 'Park the Bus' if you will, as Iraq did in losing 1-0 to Spain last week, but that approach wouldn't really tell us much about the United States and its ability to play its own brand of soccer well against even the best of competition.
Expect the Americans to field a lineup with its share of attacking options, but also with a solid defensive foundation. In fact, there isn't much reason to believe we'll see a lineup much different from the one that beat Egypt, 3-0, on Sunday.
So who will the United States start vs. Spain? Here is one possible lineup:
USA Projected Lineup vs. Spain
While Jay DeMerit has been very good playing in place of Carlos Bocanegra, you have to go with Bocanegra if he is healthy. It should not be forgotten that the Bocanegra-Onyewu tandem did very well vs. Spain last year, with Bocanegra helping contain Torres while the Liverpool striker was in the game.
Now, if Bocanegra still isn't recovered from his hamstring injury then you stay with Demerit, meaning we could see the same starting lineup that beat Egypt.
So why not Bocanegra at left back and DeMerit in the middle? That move wouldn't be too bad, although you wonder how smart it would be to have Bocanegra testing out his recovered hamstring on the left flank against Spain's speedy wingers in space. No, marking Torres and Villa wouldn't be easy, but marking them would provide different physical tests.
What other changes could we see? It's tough to imagine any other moves. The Bradley-Clark combo worked so well vs. Egpyt, making Jose Torres and Freddy Adu extreme longshots. Benny Feilhaber has been the midfielder off the bench and the safe bet to get the call if Clark or Bradley couldn't go for some reason.
Here is one lineup I wouldn't mind seeing:
Why this group? Altidore has had his moments, but hasn't produced the chances you would want for the minutes he has gotten (That said, I do think he would be a handful for Spain's centerbacks). This lineup puts Dempsey closer to goal and puts Donovan and Davies in space, where their speed can go at Spain's somewhat vulnerable flanks. You also put together Bradley, Clark and Feilhaber in central midfield, where they just might work well enough together to slow down Spain's creative midfielders.
The U.S. lineup is relatively easy to call, especially compared to the Spain lineup, which has many more variables. It's a safe bet that you will see Torres, Villa, Fabregas, Xavi and Xabi Alonso, but the back four has plenty of variations and there are several midfielders who can slot in with the aforementioned quintet. Here is one potential Spain lineup:
No matter who Spain starts, the key to slowing them down will be cutting off passing lanes and tightly marking the dangerous forward tandem of VIlla and Torres. The Americans contained Torres last year, but Villa didn't play in that game. If the U.S. team can stay organized in midfield, and disciplined in the back, we will have a very competitive game to watch, much like last year's meeting.
For those of you wondering, here were the starting lineups the last time these teams met a year ago:
SPAIN 1, USA 0 (June 4, 2008): The Lineups
The United States did well against Spain to create some chances and defend well, but the Spanish will be employing a 4-4-2 this time around that will provide a much tougher test for the U.S. back-line.
One thing the Americans must do is attack on the flanks and force Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila to defend. Pressuring them means limiting Spain's flank options and forcing playmakers Xavi and Fabregas to get around Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark in order to create chances. That might seem like a bit of a mismatch, but last year Bradley and Maurice Edu held up very well for about 70 minutes before finally being worn-down and pierced by a beautiful Xavi run.
The U.S. team would do well to look closely at last year's meeting and realize that it will face a very similar Spain team on Wednesday, while the current U.S. team is stronger than last year's group. That, coupled with Sunday's victory, should give the Americans enough confidence to make Wednesday's semifinal a more competitive match than some might expect it to be.
Now it is your turn. What starting lineup would you like to see the United States use vs. Spain? Think the USA can pull off the upset? Excited to see how the American stack up against the best team in the world?
Share your thoughts below.