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.

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies rallied for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Tommy Joseph won it with a single up the middle with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The hit scored Aaron Altherr, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.

The Phils have won just six of their last 27 games. Joseph has had a walk-off, game-winning hit in the last two wins.

In addition to Joseph, who also homered, the star of the game was the Phillies' bullpen. Four Phils' relievers combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff exited. The Phillies' bullpen is riding a 19 2/3-innings scoreless streak.

Starting pitching report
Eickhoff allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a bunt hit and a two-run homer to the first two batters of the game but took a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff single and a one-out RBI double in that inning as the Reds tied the game at 3-3.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, back in action at age 40 after recovering from surgery the last two seasons, gave up three runs — all on solo homers — over five innings.

Bullpen report
Good work by Edubray Ramos to get two outs in the sixth to strand a runner in scoring position and preserve a 3-3 tie. Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each followed with a scoreless inning. Neris struck out dangerous Joey Votto on a splitter with a man on base to end the top of the ninth. He got the win.

Austin Brice pitched two scoreless innings for the Reds. Michael Lorenzen took the loss. He gave up two hits in the ninth. Joseph's game-winning hit came on a 97 mph heater.

At the plate
Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all clouted solo homers for the Phillies. Joseph has six homers in his last 21 games.

Zack Cozart smacked a two-run homer against Eickhoff in the first inning. The Reds tied the game on a one-out double by Scooter Gennett in the sixth.

Remembering Bunning
Jim Bunning died Friday night. Larry Bowa recalled the impact that the Hall of Famer had on his career (see story).

Up next
The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) and Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99) are the pitchers.