Commentary

Pros and cons of U.S. squad

Updated: June 7, 2011, 12:29 PM ET
By Ian Darke | ESPN.com

The U.S.'s decision to take on Spain with a weakened side Saturday was like attempting an assault on Everest wearing trainers and a T-shirt. A 4-0 hammering was hardly the ideal mental preparation for the Gold Cup campaign, which is now underway. The U.S. plays its first match tonight in Detroit, against Canada, and coach Bob Bradley and his players will hope to erase the memories of this weekend's massacre.

Bradley was caught between a rock and a hard place by a poorly timed fixture which probably should never have been scheduled. If you are playing Spain, you had better do so with your best team.

But Bradley, with an understandable eye to keeping key players fresh for the Gold Cup, went in without his son Michael, Clint Dempsey, captain Carlos Bocanegra and the sick Landon Donovan. That opened the stage for the likes of Tim Ream, Eric Lichaj, Robbie Rogers, Sacha Kljestan and Juan Agudelo.

The hurtful truth, of course, is such a depleted outfit had no chance whatsoever against the Spanish pass masters, who ripped the Americans limb from limb in the first half. They did it without Xavi, Carles Puyol and Cesc Fabregas, and with three of the four goals scored by players who did not make Spain's 23-man 2010 World Cup roster.

The U.S. improved considerably once the experienced older hands came on in the second half.

In retrospect, Bradley probably wished he had started with his top men and brought the kids on later.

Nevertheless, there were still some positives to take away from the match. Dempsey's bright intelligent display, as he played more centrally as a second striker, is worth considering as a more permanent option going forward. And I thought Chris Wondolowski, without ripping up any trees, showed enough craft and good movement to be worth another look up front.

Michael Bradley, despite his lack of action for Aston Villa, showed his critics what a key cog he is for the U.S. He would be a good Premier League signing for newly promoted QPR, Norwich or Swansea if Villa do not snap him up.

But the striking positions are a genuine concern for the U.S.

Jozy Altidore did not score at the World Cup and has only one goal for the U.S. since then. He needs to be a more regular club starter somewhere to attain match sharpness. Agudelo, despite all his promise and publicity, is still just a teenager learning his craft and it would be wrong to have too many raised expectations at this stage.

Some radical thinking may be needed by the coach, because the U.S. went into the Gold Cup with five goals from eight games. And the Spanish inquisition will be forgotten if Donovan & Co. go on to win the tournament.

I still think the full-strength American team, with a fit Stuart Holden back, is resilient and tough to beat. But Spain did highlight that the cover and depth in a transitional U.S. squad is a concern.


I'll be back next week with my thoughts on the U.S.'s chances in the Women's World Cup.

Ian Darke is a commentator for ESPN. You can reach him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/iandarkeespn.

Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN lead soccer voice in the United States. He has covered the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982, and has one of the world's most recognizable soccer voices.