What a difference two years makes. In the summer of 2009, the United States men's national team shocked the world by defeating Spain 2-0 in the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Reliable arbiters such as the New York Times and ESPN called it the "Miracle on Grass." More importantly, the U.S. snapped Spain's 35-match unbeaten streak and sent a message to the rest of the soccer community that the Yanks no longer were satisfied to play the role of pushovers.
Fast forward to yesterday, on a gorgeous summer day in Foxborough, Mass. Despite a great marketing build-up by ESPN and the fact that 64,000-plus made their way to the stadium, the U.S. men laid a huge egg as a rampant Spain ran circles around them in a comprehensive 4-0 friendly win.
Let's get one thing straight ... Spain, the reigning World Cup champs, are a fantastic team. But you have to wonder about the U.S. manager Bob Bradley's approach to the game. Granted, the U.S. faces Canada in Detroit this coming Tuesday night in the CONCACAF Gold Cup opener.
But keeping players such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley on the bench invited Spain to ratchet up the pressure on a young U.S. side that included 18-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, the one-time resident of Barnegat, N.J. Needless to say, it didn't go well.
Spain could have been up 5-0 within the first 12 minutes or so, as U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was incandescent with rage with his defenders after they watched the ball instead of marking Spanish players moving into space. But this team, much like Barcelona (from which six players made this roster), can do that to you.
The Spanish players are used to standing 12 to 16 yards apart from each other, in a triangle shape, from the time they can walk. The movement of the ball and the positions to receive it are second nature. When the U.S. tries similar tactics, it almost always breaks down due to a lack of innate feel for where the ball can go as a secondary option.
Dempsey, Bradley and Steve Cherundolo, who had a great year in the German Bundesliga, came on in the second half for the U.S. to stem the tide a bit. While Spain was still the better side, the gap wasn't as pronounced. Still, what we saw Saturday was one team at the peak of its powers (Spain) while another one (the U.S.) looked a bit lost at sea.
Speaking of the difference some time can make, the Philadelphia Union of MLS gained a solid point on the road against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. The match ended 1-1, and the Union improved to 6-3-3 on the season.
That's good enough, at 21 points, to retain first place in the Eastern Conference. At this point last season, the team's inaugural one, the Union was beginning a long slide into competitive oblivion. But manager Peter Nowak, an MLS expert due to his playing time with the Chicago Fire and managerial stint with D.C. United, has turned the team around in a big way.
Striker Danny Mwanga's goal in the 66th minute, a cracker off his right foot that resulted in him creating space for himself after a sweet turn, tied up a game that the Union had dominated. You start to get the feeling that this team can go a long way in the playoffs ... only time will tell.