The United States and Spain square off less than 24 hours from now and fans of America's team are wondering what Bob Bradley is going to do.
The head coach made a few out-of-the-box decisions regarding his Gold Cup roster and has question marks all over the field. Aside from that, how will he treat Saturday's high-profile match? While playing the No. 1 team in the world on your home turf on ESPN is nice, with the Gold Cup starting three days later (June 7 vs. Canada), it's actually not the top prize for the U.S. this summer. How will Bradley balance the need to rest vital players, versus the temptation of pulling off another monumental upset?
It's fairly certain Bradley will use all or most of his six allotted substitutions in Foxborough, Mass., where the U.S. holds a 16-1-5 record since 1990. Seventeen players probably will see the field, but everyone's wondering which 11 will start. I'm one of them.
Tim Howard (with Marcus Hahnemann likely coming in after halftime). That's where the easy part ends.
Aside from Steve Cherundolo on the right side, the defensive line is anybody's guess. Out of Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Tim Ream, which two start in the middle? I'm guessing one veteran and one rookie. Does Bocanegra push out to the left side, or will Bradley look to Jonathan Bornstein (again)? Will Eric Lichaj get a shot in the second half? All good questions.
Will this be a 4-man or 5-man unit? Bradley's standard 4-4-2 isn't a sure thing anymore, with the 4-2-3-1 now a distinct possibility with the lone striker -- Jozy Altidore -- up front. If that's the case, it leaves room to start Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones AND Maurice Edu in the middle, with Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the wings. You can bet that Donovan and Dempsey won't be seeing much -- or any -- action in the second half, so Alejandro Bedoya and Freddy Adu could get a look to spice up the attacking midfield.
Though he's not the potent goalscorer that everyone wants him to be, Altidore will start. Like Dempsey and Donovan, he'll probably sit in the second half and the teenager, Juan Agudelo, will get some time. Of course, both could start if Bradley reverts to his 4-4-2. Also, Bradley's refusal to give players such as Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez and Teal Bunbury a roster spot means Dempsey is also a viable (and welcome) option on the front line.
The last time these two teams took the field, on June 24, 2009, the United States upset Spain, 2-0, in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. Nine players from each team are back for the rematch two years later. There's no question that epic U.S. win helped elevate the team's comfort level in South Africa as the World Cup loomed the following year. Case and point: the United States won its group -- over favorite England -- for the first time in 80 years.
Without that upset over Spain and an admirable performance against Brazil a year earlier, that might not have happened. The Americans got that chance to upset Spain two years ago because they won the 2007 Gold Cup. They can get a chance like that again (in Brazil in 2013) if they win the 2011 Gold Cup.
So, in a way, the U.S. can't pull all it's eggs in one basket just because 60,000 fans have bought tickets to see the U.S. take on the mighty Spainiards. Bradley knows this, but he knows the United States can't afford to lay an egg, either.