US Faces World Cup Champs in Gold Cup Tuneup

US Faces World Cup Champs in Gold Cup Tuneup

US v. Spain: This time it's for all the tapas (4:30PM/ESPN). On a serious note, I'd crush some patatas bravas right now.

A lot has happened since these two teams last met at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa. The US stunned Spain 2-0 that day. Spain, the 2008 European Champions, was in the midst of a 15-game international winning streak.

The US, who looked completely overmatched in Confed Cup group play (losing 3-1 to Italy and 3-0 to Brazil), miraculously advanced after beating Egypt 3-0 (it helped that Italy did not score again in the tournament following their 3-0 thrashing of the US). Somehow the US did the unthinkable and knocked off La Furia Roja (The Red Fury).

All Spain has done since then is win a World Cup and earn unanimous worldwide praise for their style of play.

While they've failed to win any trophies or plaudits for their style of play the Americans have no doubt enjoyed success since that Confed Cup match. They stunningly took a 2-0 lead into halftime in the final against Brazil - going toe-to-toe with the world power before ultimately losing 3-2. For the first time ever they won their group at the 2010 World Cup.

In so doing Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan authored the signature play in modern US Soccer history. No matter how many times I watch it the stoppage time goal against Algeria never gets old. Ever.

Sure, today's game is just a friendly, but whenever your national team has the opportunity to play the defending World Cup champions you've got to be at least mildly excited. I mean, take a look at the Spanish roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Víctor Valdés (Barcelona)
DEFENDERS (7): Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Carlos Marchena (Villarreal), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santiago Cazorla (Villarreal), Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Bruno Soriano (Villarreal), Borja Valero (Villarreal)
FORWARDS (7): David Villa (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Pedro Rodríguez (Barcelona), Manu Del Moral (Sevilla), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla)

Three words for you - Re. Dic. Ulous. I mean, just look at their goalkeepers. Casillas, Pepe Reina, and Valdés. And, truth be told, you could have the same reaction when looking at the defenders, midfielders, and forwards. It's really just an embarrasment of riches.

For the US this is not about earning a result. Quite simply this is a tuneup for the Gold Cup. The US will face Canada just three days from now in Detroit. With that in mind I'd be surprised if Bob Bradley plays his starters the full ninety. Perhaps Michael Bradley, who was getting no run with Aston Villa, will be the lone starter to see extended minutes.

Beyond that I don't think you'll see Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bocanegra, or Altidore play much more than 65 minutes or so. If nothing else we may get a glimpse of Freddy Adu this afternoon, which I am legitimately excited for.

What should you look for in this one? Well, first and foremost take the time to appreciate the way Spain plays. Sure, Xavi isn't playing, but Iniesta likely will be. The guy is a virtuoso in the midfield and will likely dictate the pace of the entire game. Also, hope that the US emerges from this game without any injuries.

While they shouldn't struggle too much to get out of their Gold Cup group (US, Canada, Panama, Guadeloupe) they'll need to be healthy in order to navigate through the knockout stage of the tournament. Also, it'll be interesting to see what formation Bob Bradley puts out there. I don't think there is any reason to change tactics or formation because they are facing Spain. They should hopefully come out and give us a glimpse of the shape they'll deploy during the Gold Cup.

*UPDATE

US Soccer just released the 18 players included on the gameday roster. They couldn't have done this before I wrote the preview? No Donovan, no Adu, no Bocanegra. Thanks Bob!: 1-Howard, 2-Spector, 4-Bradley, 5-Onyewu, 6-Cherundolo, 7-Edu, 8-Dempsey, 9-Agudelo, 11-Wondolowski, 13-Jones, 14-Lichaj, 15-Ream, 16-Kljestan, 17-Altidore, 19-Rogers, 21-Goodson

NOTES

- They've installed grass over the artificial turf at Gillette Stadium for this game. Which reminds me of one of my favorite lines from The Fugitive. As the U.S. Marshals scour Chicago looking for Dr. Richard Kimble during the St. Patrick's Day parade the Chicago River is dyed green. One of the marshals asks "If they can dye the river green today, why can't they dye it blue the other 364 days of the year?" So, why can't they keep the grass the other 364 days? Yes, I realize New England gets tough winter weather, but come on.

- It's a shame that Stu Holden is injured. His breakout season in Bolton's central midfield gave hope that he could provide the US with a more dynamic presence. Unfortunately, he's not available.

- The US is only carrying three forwards: Altidore, Agudelo, and Wondolowski. Spain? Well, they've brought seven and they're all class: Villa, Silva, Llorente, Torres, Pedro, Del Moral, and Negredo. Good lord is that a ridiculous amount of forward depth. Perhaps they'll play a 2-1-7.

Best of MLB: Alejandro De Aza drives in 5 runs in Mets' win over Cards

Best of MLB: Alejandro De Aza drives in 5 runs in Mets' win over Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright lost his glove trying to tag out Yoenis Cespedes and lost the game, too, when Alejandro De Aza homered and drove in five runs to send the New York Mets over St. Louis 10-6 Thursday night.

Seth Lugo (1-2) pitched five scoreless innings for his first big league win. The Mets took two of three to win their first series at Busch Stadium since 2008.

Brandon Moss hit two home runs for the Cardinals and Jedd Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty also connected.

The Mets led 3-0 in the fifth when Wainwright (9-8) and Cespedes were involved in a bizarre play.

Cespedes tried to go from first to third on a bloop single by James Loney. When several Cardinals chased the ball, Wainwright covered third base. Cespedes slid and his cleat pinned Wainwright's glove to the bag -- he would've been out, but when Wainwright pulled away his hand, the mitt stayed stuck under Cespedes' foot.

Because Wainwright didn't control the ball, Cespedes was called safe in a ruling upheld by replay. Moments later, De Aza hit a three-run homer to make it 7-0 (see full recap).

Scherzer's arm, Harper's bat help Nats blank O's
WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer allowed two hits over eight innings and Bryce Harper's two-run double helped the Washington Nationals avoid a four-game home-and-home sweep with a 4-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night.

Scherzer (14-7) struck out 10 and did not walk a batter. He retired 12 straight after Adam Jones's fourth-inning double and 21 of 22 before Mark Trumbo's leadoff single in the eighth.

Jayson Werth's solo home run staked Washington to a 1-0 lead. Daniel Murphy's RBI double in the eighth came before Harper's second hit helped the Nationals pull away.

The Nationals had lost four straight including three in a row to the Orioles, who won twice in Baltimore before the teams shifted to Washington.

Ubaldo Jimenez (5-11) allowed one run and five hits over six innings (see full recap).

Escobar pushes surging Royals past Marlins
MIAMI -- Alcides Escobar homered and drove in two runs to lead the surging Kansas City Royals past the Miami Marlins 5-2 on Thursday night.

Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales also drove in runs for the Royals as the defending World Series champions have won 15 of 18 to pull within four games of the second AL wild card spot.

Kansas City starter Edison Volquez (10-10) pitched five innings and allowed two runs, both unearned, and three hits.

The Royals' bullpen, which has been a successful formula for the reigning two-time AL pennant winners, pitched four scoreless innings to push their franchise-record scoreless streak to 38 2-3 innings -- the best in the majors since 2002-03 when San Francisco tossed 39 1-3 straight.

Kelvin Herrera pitched a flawless ninth for his ninth save in 11 chances.

Tom Koehler (9-9) allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in six innings for the Marlins (see full recap).

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.