Thursday June 5th, 2008

Five things we learned from Spain's 1-0 win over the U.S. on Wednesday in Santander, Spain:

Freddy Adu made a difference. After the U.S.'s miserable display against England last week, I was hoping Adu would get a chance to start as an attacking central midfielder in a 4-5-1 formation against Spain, and that's exactly what happened.

The 19-year-old Adu is one of the few U.S. players who has confidence on the ball in tight space, and he was dangerous in his 45 minutes of action, unsettling the Spanish defense, drawing fouls and serving some penetrating balls to Eddie Johnson up front.

Adu was also noticeable by his absence in the second half, when the U.S. was unable to mount any credible attacks up the middle. Adu hasn't had many chances to perform for the U.S. senior team, but this was easily his best performance yet at this level. Here's hoping he gets more opportunities soon.

The U.S. just gives the ball up too easily. Although this was a somewhat better performance overall compared to the England debacle, the Americans still had far too many giveaways, many of them unforced.

The orange-cone defending that allowed Xavi to waltz through the middle on his 79th-minute goal was bad enough -- give Xavi some credit for a sweet first touch before making statuary out of Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu and Frankie Hejduk -- but what was criminal was the unforced give-away that led to Spain's goal-scoring possession in the first place: a botched throw-in from Heath Pearce to Eddie Johnson at the other end that was easily stolen by Carles Puyol.

Eddie Johnson missed a big opportunity in the past two games. For the second straight game, Johnson's inability to put away a golden chance early in the second half was a huge moment for the Americans. EJ wasted Eddie Lewis' letter-perfect cross from the left side, nodding the ball wide from six yards.

I guess it's a promising sign that Johnson put himself in a couple of positions to score against England and Spain, but at this level you absolutely have to finish in those spots. Johnson had a real chance to make an impression in these two games without the presence of Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Brian Ching in the U.S. lineup. Unfortunately for him, he failed to deliver.

Michael Bradley has got to become a 90-minute player. Allow me to respectfully disagree with ESPN analyst John Harkes, who was calling for Bradley to be subbed out early in the second half. I'd agree with Harkes if the result from this game was what mattered most, but in the big picture Bradley has to develop the stamina, wisdom and focus to perform for 90 minutes against top-flight competition if his star is going to continue to rise.

As we learned again against Spain, he's not there yet. When Bradley gets fatigued he starts leaving his feet with abandon, and it began in the 62nd minute on Wednesday when he went to ground to take out Santi Cazorla. The fatigue was even more noticeable when Bradley picked up a yellow-card after a bad first-touch ended a nice U.S. possession (77th minute) and over-pursued Xavi on his goal (79th minute).

I still think Bradley will get out of this phase at some point, and when he does he will be a 90-minute menace at the club and international levels because he covers so much ground and sees so much of the field.

Too bad Jozy Altidore wasn't in Spain already. All things considered, I would have preferred to see Altidore playing up front for the U.S. during the past two games instead of Johnson, who has lacked confidence in the opposing penalty box for a couple years now.

Then again, Altitdore should get his chance in Spain soon enough with Wednesday's news that MLS had reached an agreement to sell him to Villarreal for a U.S. and MLS record transfer of around $10 million, which includes performance-based bonuses but does not include a clause that would provide MLS more money based on any future sale of Altidore to another club (per a source close to the deal).

Even if Altidore does get loaned by Villarreal to Recreativo Huelva, as has been reported in the Spanish media, the chance to play in La Liga is a golden one for the 18-year-old U.S. striker -- and a more attractive option than playing for Reading in the Premier League would have been had MLS accepted that offer a few months ago.

Feel free to ask a question in the Mailbag box. Have a good week!

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