Photo by ISIphotos.com
It is amazing what can be done when a team plays with no fear and a perfect game plan.
The U.S. national team showed no fear in facing the seemingly unbeatable Spanish national team on Wednesday. The Americans didn't waver at the sight of an opposing lineup worth probably half a billion on the open market. They focused only on their game plan and carrying out to perfect because that was the only way they were going to win.
The result was eleven players coming together to stop the unstoppable. How did they do it?
They wrecked Spain's engine with five players who frustrated, fought and closed down one of the best attacks in soccer history. Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark and Landon Donovan did their best impressions of engine gunk, causing Spain's offense to stall and struggle, while Tim Howard stepped up and cleaned up the handful of chances that were still bound to come against a team as dangerous as Spain.
The outcome was a shutout. Against Spain. Yes, that Spain.
There is plenty of credit to go around for Wednesday's win, from Clint Dempsey for his own defensive work and clutch offensive contributions, to Jozy Altidore for his impressive turn and finish, to the tireless effort of fullbacks Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector. What should be focused on is the work of the five players mentioned above because it was their work that ultimately stopped Spain.
You can start with Bradley and Clark, who were considered to have no chance in central midfield against the wizardry of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso. Bradley and Clark didn't stay back and give too much respect to the Spanish playmakers. Instead, they closed them down, cut off their passing lanes and got the ball into the U.S. counterattack quickly when they intercepted passes.
The play that best illustrated their work was late in the second half, when Bradley closed down Xavi and stripped him of the ball. That ball found Benny Feilhaber, who's slick work on the ball led to Clint Dempsey's goal.
While Bradley and Clark were fighting Spain's magical midfield, Onyewu and DeMerit were busy containing the most expensive forward tandem in the world. Onyewu dominated everything in the air while DeMerit played the game of his career, showing perfect anticipation and vision to put himself in the right position to stop Spain attackers over and over. The pair made dozens of clutch tackles and made life difficult for Villa and Torres in a way no one had in years.
Even with Onyewu, DeMerit, Bradley and Clark doing all the work to shut things down in the middle of the field, they still needed help and that help came from Donovan, who served as the roving player in midfield who helped apply pressure on the ball and helped close down passing lanes. Donovan work tirelessly on the defensive end, but still had the energy to jump into the counterattack repeatedly.
His unbelievable effort brought back memories of his showing against Italy in the 2006 World Cup, when the United States had to play Italy a man down. On that night, Donovan was all over the field, sacrificing his own offensive contributions for the good of the team. On Wednesday, Donovan had that same defensive intensity, but was also able to test Spain's defense repeatedly with confident possession and purposeful runs forward, runs like the one that led to his pass on Dempsey's goal.
In short, Donovan was everywhere.
Make no mistake, Wednesday's victory was a complete team effort, but when looking at how the Americans were able to shut out Spain, with all its mega-million superstars, you can point to the tireless, fearless and world-class defensive work of Onyewu, DeMerit, Bradley, Clark and Donovan.
What did you think of the work of this Fab Five? Share your thoughts below.