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 NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots in the third period and 37 overall, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Evander Kane and minor-league callup Nicholas Baptiste each had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's third straight win, matching a season best accomplished three times. Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Sabres (26-23-10), who have three more wins than losses for the first time since closing the 2011-12 season 39-32-11.

Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis, which lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4 (see full recap).

Jets spoil Julien's return to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Patrik Laine and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled Claude Julien's return to Montreal with a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Joel Armia also scored for Winnipeg (27-29-5), and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots. The Jets had dropped five of six.

The Canadiens fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track. Julien also coached Montreal from 2003-2006.

But Julien's first game back was more of the same for the first-place Canadiens (31-20-8), who have lost three in a row and seven of eight (see full recap).

Senators top Leafs to gain on Canadiens
TORONTO -- Mark Stone had a goal and four assists, Derick Brassard scored twice in the third period and the Ottawa Senators recovered after blowing a two-goal lead to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Senators pulled within two points of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa led 2-0 after one period but trailed 3-2 in the third before getting a tying goal from Mike Hoffman and a power-play goal from Brassard. Stone and Brassard added empty-netters, and Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel also scored for the Senators.

Ottawa has won four of five overall and three of four against the Leafs this season. Craig Anderson stopped 34 shots.

Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander scored and Auston Matthews had two assists for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NEW ORLEANS -- Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score -- and the title -- on his final dunk.

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

Robinson had one dunk in which he leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slamming it home.

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said. "I think a lot of kids now growing up will improve those perimeter skills just seeing guys like -- I don't want to mention myself, but big guys with perimeter skills that can do it."

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

Earlier on Saturday, Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship, and Chris Webber were among the 14 finalists for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Others include NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include point guard Tim Hardaway, record-setting high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU national champion Wayland Baptist University.

Enshrinees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. The induction ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are Sept. 7-9.