Spain shows US kids not ready for spotlight

It was supposed to be a tough tune-up ahead of an important tournament, but the U.S. men’s national team’s friendly against Spain quickly devolved into a brutal beating that had to make you wonder just what the value of the friendly really was.

Bob Bradley chose to field an inexperienced starting lineup against the defending World Cup champions and quickly paid the price. Spain’s precision passing game shredded the United States defense and left plenty of American fans at Gillette Stadium (and across the country) disappointed and concerned heading into the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which the Americans kick off on Tuesday against Canada.

If you’re looking for bright spots from Saturday’s match for the United States, there weren’t many. The central midfield pairing of Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu couldn’t keep up with the head-spinning passes of Spain’s midfield, and the centerback tandem of Tim Ream and Oguchi Onyewu struggled to deal with the movement and timing of Spain’s forwards. Forwards Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore were left starving for service because the wing midfield pairing of Sacha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers was too busy chasing Spanish attackers to contribute anything offensively.

In short, the first half was a complete mess that was equal parts Spanish quality and American ineptitude. The reality is the domination shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise because the U.S. national team just doesn’t have the depth to compete with the world’s elite teams.

That didn’t make Saturday’s blowout any easier to stomach.

Bradley clearly missed the mark when he decided to start out the friendly with a young team rather than starting the match with top veterans in the lineup to contend with an in-form Spain side.

The biggest positive came in the second half, when an infusion of veterans helped make the match a contest again, if only temporarily. Michael Bradley immediately commanded the midfield in a way his teammates hadn’t in the first half, while Clint Dempsey showed an ability to get on the ball and threaten. Steve Cherundolo showed why he’s the most reliable defender in the national team pool.

You could argue that the improved performance came in the second half with Spain nursing a three-goal lead, but considering the Spanish inserted stars Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres in the second half, it wasn’t as if Spain had a JV squad on the field.

Was the friendly a complete waste of time for the United States? Not really. Not considering the experience gained by young players like Agudelo, Ream and Eric Lichaj. They all faced the toughest international opponents they have seen since becoming parts of the national team set-up, and all three should be considered key long-term prospects.

That all said, U.S. Soccer may have want to reconsider the viability of squeezing in a friendly against a world-class opponent so close to a tournament. It is obvious that the Spain friendly was a big money-maker for U.S. Soccer, and perhaps Saturday was the only time the United States could land Spain as an opponent on home turf this year, but the match clearly put Bradley and the U.S. team in a situation where failure seemed inevitable.

Does Saturday’s loss spell doom for the U.S. chances in this summer’s Gold Cup? Not really. The full first team is still strong enough to win a third Gold Cup in four tries, and the current squad has too many experienced players to let a loss in a friendly linger for too long. If there is anything concerning that Saturday’s loss revealed, it is that the next generation isn’t quite ready for prime time, and the core group of veterans will need to keep carrying the load for just a bit longer.

Player grades

Tim Howard (5.5) – Couldn’t really do much on Spain’s goals, and came up with a handful of stops to keep the game from being an even uglier rout.

Jonathan Spector (3.5) – Overwhelmed by David Silva and looked like a player who hadn’t played right back in months. Looked better in midfield.

Oguchi Onyewu (4) – Looked nervous on the ball and still doesn’t look like the player he was before the knee injury suffered in 2009.

Tim Ream (4.5) – Clearly struggled with Spain’s speed of play, but does look like a young defender who can improve.

Eric Lichaj (4.5) – Wasn’t abused as much as Spector, and even got forward a few times, but struggled with positioning quite a bit.

Robbie Rogers (3) – Invisible and ineffective. Wasted the best U.S. chance of the first half.

Sacha Kljestan (3) – Only slightly more useful than Rogers.

Jermaine Jones (3.5) – Didn’t impose himself as much as would have been expected. Won very few balls.

Maurice Edu (4.5) – Had some good moments, but struggled to find a good rhythm with Jones in the middle.

Juan Agudelo (4.5) – Clearly frustrated by the lack of service, but also showed willingness to go at defenders, even if he painted himself into corners at times.

Jozy Altidore (3) – Forgettable game. Nothing positive to point to, but invisible midfield hurt him the more than others.

Clint Dempsey (5.5) – Instant offense off the bench, but needed more support to be more effective.

Steve Cherundolo (5.5) – Showed his quality right away, such a gulf in quality from Spector to him at right back.

Michael Bradley (5.5) – Commanded the midfield early in the second half, didn’t look like a player who’d seen few minutes on the club level recently.

Clarence Goodson (4.5) – Looked better than Onyewu, though still had his struggles with Spain.

Chris Wondolowski (4) – Crafty striker got into some good positions, but still needs to adjust to that level of play.

Alejandro Bedoya (4.5) – Made more of an impact than Kljestan or Rogers did, don’t be surprised if he winds up getting minutes this Gold Cup.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.