Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spain Beats USA 4-0: So What?

So What? Seriously, SO WHAT? What difference does this loss make in the greater scheme of things? None!

This afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts the Spanish National Team put on a soccer clinic, at least for the first half, against the United States National Team. During the first half, which saw US Coach Bob Bradley field a squad with little serious international experience, Spain scored three goals and came close to scoring several more. At halftime, the general consensus on Twitter was that the United States was lucky to have only given up three goals to the World Cup Champions.

In the second half, Bradley subbed in Clint Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo, and Michael Bradley, among other players. Bringing in these three experienced players made a noticeable difference, not only did they help stop the goal bleeding, with one exception, the presence of these veterans enabled the US to finally have some serious chances of their own, though they did not manage to capitalize on any of those chances.

Spain's first half goals came from Santi Cazorla and Álvaro Arbeloa, while it was Fernando Torres who finally broke his scoring drought by picking up the only goal in the second half of the match.

Despite the claim that the US was taken to school by Spain, the US should not feel embarrassed by today's result because winning this match was clearly not on the agenda for them today. As mentioned above, Bob Bradley did not start several of his veterans and didn't even bother having the team captain, Carol Bocanegra, and one of his best players, Landon Donovan, suit up for the match. The one true veteran who got the start, Oguchi Onyewu, might as well have been relaxing on the pitch in a lawn chair. For Bob Bradley and his crew, today's goal wasn't winning, today's goal was surviving without any serious injuries.

While today's match was ostensibly a warm up for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which starts on Sunday, the US team would have benefited more from scrimmaging domestic club or college teams instead of playing Spain. The reality is that today's match was all about marketing and money.

Over 64,000 fans were in attendance at Gillette Stadium for this Saturday matinée match and, more importantly, the match was broadcast live not over ESPN2 but over The World Wide Leader's Flagship station, the infamous four letter network, ESPN. This match was a 90 minute infomercial for the Gold Cup, a tournament that matters this year because the winner will qualify for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. The added bonus is that US Soccer, Soccer United Marketing, and ESPN most likely made a nice little profit off this match, thanks to scheduling one of the highest profile opponents possible.

Heads will not roll at Soccer House because of today's loss. Bob Bradley's job is not in jeopardy and none of the players who saw playing time today will lose a starting spot in the Gold Cup because of today's performance. No, the sad part about today is not that the US lost, it's that this match did nothing to improve the US National Team, with the exception of some younger players learning they can face Spain on the pitch and still be alive at the end of the match.

In general, I'm all for the US scheduling friendlies against superior teams like Spain, this is one of the best ways for a middling team like the US to improve itself in the long term, but I don't like the idea of scheduling a team like Spain right before an important tournament. The team benefits the most when it plays its starters against a superior team, that's not what happened today, and that wasn't going to happen when Bradley's focus is making sure his best players are fit for the impending Gold Cup.

Finally, while on paper, and even on video highlights (which you can watch below), today's loss looks horrible, soccer fans in the United States needn't worry about this loss hurting "the growth" of soccer in the United States. The fanbase for soccer in the United States is strong and isn't going any where; however, that strong fanbase is comprised mainly of people who are focused on European and Mexican football clubs. Even Travis Rodgers, the former producer for Jim Rome and current host of the daily afternoon show on Sporting News Radio, recently stated that Soccer Fan is no longer annoying because Soccer Fan has plenty of his own to talk to now and is no longer earnestly trying to convert non-soccer fans. Of course, the example Travis gave was that an EPL fan has plenty of EPL fans he can talk to about the EPL without bothering those who are ignorant of the EPL.

Today, the Jehovah Witness of soccer in the US is the primary US/MLS fan trying to convert the primary Europe/Mexico club fan. While today's loss won't help the cause of these Witnesses, it won't hurt it either. Most Europe/Mexico club fans are familiar with US/MLS and often watch, even attend matches and root for the US and/or an MLS side. These fans don't blindly gush over US/MLS, they recognize it as an improving product that still needs to grow more. Today's loss won't have much impact on the primary Europe/Mexico club fan, while it might reinforce his view, it's not going to make him stop paying whatever kind of attention he already gives to US/MLS.

In the end, the US will likely make it to the 2011 Gold Cup Final in Pasadena on June 25th, and the team will most likely face Mexico in that match. The result of that match will have a bigger and longer impact on US soccer than today's loss could ever have.

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