USA Men’s National Team vs. Brazil: The Glass is Half…

I haven’t visited the half-full vs. half-empty review style in a while, so before I hit the web, Twitter, and fifteen different views of player ratings which will inevitably color my perspective, let’s dust it off.

To level set though, let’s remind ourselves that for all intents and purposes, the USA vs. Brazil game was a meaningless friendly.  It was clear that we’d hear lots of Bob Bradley rumor mongering, see many substitutions and get a glimpse of some new faces on either side.

My only hope all day was for it to be a good game.  For it to be fun.  For us to see something a bit new.   And before the we fill or empty our glass here in our traditional style, let’s examine why I left this comprehensive loss a little more at ease than I should have.

The primary reason: Brazil is back.  While it is hard to imagine it being so clear after only one game, it does seem like the positive, exciting, energetic and yes, happy, Brazilian team might be making a comeback.  Mr. Dunga, thanks for nothing.

The USA will always be my team, but  Brazil at their best should be everyone’s team (unless maybe you’re Argentine).  I hate for the USA to lose, but I’d rather see a fast moving, positive playing Brazilian team beat us three times over than re-watch a 0-5 result against Mexico in the Gold Cup Final.  And I don’t care if it was a “B Team” or an “F Team.”  Sorry.

Brazilian skill on the ball is always superb, but what kept my attention all game was the unbelievable off the ball movement.   Between brazen one-touch keep away games, instantaneous changes of pace and sly off the ball runs, I can almost understand the ball watching the USA displayed far too frequently.  Almost.

With that, let’s get back to reality…

Glass Half Full View

  • The USA didn’t give up an early goal.  Yes, this half-full sentiment is really the absence of a negative.  However, USA fans have grown so accustomed to being behind after fifteen minutes, it was a noteworthy and welcome change.  In fact, for about the first 20 minutes, the USA played very well.
  • Tim Howard and Brad Guzan both looked up to the task.  This isn’t a surprise, but when you are so thoroughly outplayed for 70 minutes or so, you take out whatever positives you can.
  • The USA got to test out some new talent.  Omar Gonzalez, welcome to the fire.  You will be invited back for more.  It’s pretty obvious that Gonzalez has a future with the USA, and since Brazil ran right through our midfield on a number of occasions, he got a fast and furious introduction to international defending.   Alejandro Bedoya wasn’t fully convincing, but if you need potential future US National Team players to get experience, this was the kind of game to do it in.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • 77,000 fans created what looked like a great atmosphere in the new Meadowlands stadium.  Let’s say that again… 77,000 fans.  We’ve been spoiled by recent crowd sizes in the USA for games lately, but let’s not forget how much has changed in 15 years.

Glass Half Empty View

  • The USA was outclassed by an extremely young Brazilian side.  Irrespective of how good the Brazilian team played, the USA team should have made it much, much harder on them.  There’s work to be done as the cycle starts anew.
  • Where will the USA find some offense?  Yes, it’s clear there are issues at forward.  We keep hearing how confident Edson Buddle is from his MLS success – but why does he never look to be playing with confidence when with the USA?  Jozy Altidore is still raw.  Herculez Gomez is still breaking through with the USA.   Aside from moving Clint Dempsey and/or Landon Donovan up top, the USA’s finishing capabilities are not going to scare many opposing defenses.
  • However, our midfield sure isn’t offering our forwards much in the way of creative support.  One reason Landon Donovan can be successful is that he can check back, and use pace to create opportunities out of midfield – and not rely on too much creativity from around him.  Otherwise, our forwards wait for great service, which aside from occasional early first-time crosses from wide, rarely comes.
  • Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu are both good players but are too similar and – especially today – got caught being too casual with their passing and possession.   What is just as troubling is with two reasonably defensive-minded midfielders in the center of the field, you would expect the USA to have much more “bite” that we showed today.  Brazil passed through the US midfield far too easily, far too often.  This is undoubtedly why Bob Bradley was hoping to get Jermaine Jones into the mix, and maybe someday he will.  The USA’s only other real option for “bite” in the midfield is Ricardo Clark, and while his career is not done with the USA I imagine, Bob Bradley would have been a very brave man to call him into this camp.

And with that, the USA must move forward.  It’s dance toward mainstream relevance might have tripped up tonight as casual fans expected the same drama and even games as they saw in South Africa.

The Brazilians, however, appear to be ready to Samba once again.

And that’s something.

Loving Barcelona, Missing Brazilian Beauty

True soccer fans know and love the teams that play with joy, skill and imagination.  To non-soccer fans I’m sure that just sounds goofy . . . and it probably somewhat unbelievable that the best play can bring tears to a true fan’s eyes.   (I am guilty as charged.)

It should come as no surprise that this thought comes during / after watching FC Barcelona play the Seattle Sounders.   Seattle looked like a good MLS side (at least in the first half); Barca often looked like a collection of magicians.

Few teams have that kind of ability and style.  Brazil is typically one of them, or perhaps was one of them.  There were times when I watched Brazil, realizing that they simply knew how to play better, prettier and more naturally than anyone else around.  Oh, how times have changed . . . let’s be clear though, Brazil is still one of the best teams that will ever step on a soccer field, as they reminded US fans by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win the Confederations Cup at our expense.   At the end of the day, quality still matters.

But today it’s different . . . the Brazilian game is now efficient, focused, even pragmatic.   This Sports Illustrated piece digs into some reasons why that might be.    It is an interesting read that challenges us to consider whether tactics are driving out the ‘special’ players, or the dearth of such players is forcing certain tactics.   A similar conundrum exists with other clubs and countries . . .  despite spending obscene amounts of money (and the stated goal of its owner), Chelsea still plays efficiently, but not beautifully.   It also touches on the continued challenge for the US to find an attractive “style” of play . . .

When the US played Brazil in the Confederations Cup, I was (not surprisingly) supporting the US team . . . but cheering for Brazil when they play anyone but the USA (and maybe my adopted-by-marriage Colombia . . .) was historically never a difficult undertaking.  They didn’t just earn that respect, they demanded it by embarrassing teams around them with skill, control and a complete lack of the usual predictability that most teams operate in.

However, there have been times now — the last Copa America final comes to mind — where the opposite was true, where it was Brazil playing counterattacking, largely negative soccer.   In that game I supported Argentina, who played beautifully.  But lost.   I would hope the Argentine fans were proud of that display and I hope the Brazilian fans are demanding better.

Until a better Brazil reappears, thank you FC Barcelona for reminding me what this game can look like.