Whether it’s a Confederations Cup final or a friendly, nobody can help comparing themselves to Brazil. Last time the United States faced the Samba Boys they ran out to a two goal lead before collapsing in the second half. The South Americans gave no such head start on Wednesday night.
Neymar dispatched a penalty kick in the 11th minute and Thiago Silva doubled the lead fourteen minutes later. Brazil ran away with a classy 4-1 win over the United States in front of over 67,000 in Washington, DC.
An uneven start to the match devolved into a Brazilian kick-about, with the most success coming down the left. Neymar’s intelligent movement pulled Cherundolo central and Marcelo was torn between crossing, juggling and starting a fragrant herb garden in the space he was granted on the wing.
The first chance, however, came through Hulk on the right. While Neymar roamed, Hulk was content to stay high in an attempt to pin Fabian Johnson back. Hulk collected just outside the box and, unable to hip-fake Johnson, curled a quickfire cross to the back post where Tim Howard pulled it out of the air.
With Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu reversing the roles they played against Scotland, the United States could not cleanly leave their own half, and Brazil’s pressure paid off in a fortuitous way in the 1oth minute.
Romulo found space twenty-two yards out and fired a low screamer that deflected off Oguchi Onyewu’s chest and arm. The referee pointed to the spot despite the protests of everyone in hoops.
Neymar’s lengthy run up to the ball belied the simplicity of a fine finish to the right of Howard’s goal.
The United States was able to move through the Brazilian midfield but could not get behind Thiago Silva’s strong back line. Edu found space in front of the defense but his shot from twenty-five yards fizzed wide of net. Jose Torres was cautioned for dissent immediately afterwards.
Herculez Gomez’s hard work up front was rarely rewarded with service, but when it was he never shied from contact. In the 15th and 25th minutes Gomez earned free kicks, but the closest the Americans came to scoring was on Bocanegra’s looping header.
Meanwhile, Brazil was moving the ball with ease and it took the brilliance of Tim Howard to keep the match close when Damiao received a cute flick and broke in unmarked. His low strike was parried wide by the diving goalie.
Howard was left fuming moments later when Brazil was asked to do very little to double their lead.
Silva doubles the lead
After Onyewu failed to clear and Brazil won a corner, Neymar’s near post ball found an unmarked – as in, I think Jermaine Jones was closer to me at the time – Thiago Silva who nodded home with no frills.
For the first half hour, the American midfield was a non-factor. Jermaine Jones made the first meaningful contribution from the central trio in the 31st when he flicked a throw-in far post to Donovan, who blazed over with his left.
Neymar’s ghostly influence
The worrying trend as the half wore down was Neymar’s rise on the left side and the United States’ inability to deal with it. Neymar’s brilliance is best seen through his feet, but it was movement and the timing of his runs that made the starlet almost an invisible sun around which the Brazilian offense orbited.
Gomez on the board
Thus, it caught all 67,000 fans and most of the players off-guard when the US manufactured a goal through the brilliant passing of Michael Bradley. After Edu freed the ball in the middle, Bradley chose a fine lane to release Johnson up the wing. The left back zipped a low cross that was deflected up to Herculez Gomez’s chest and into the gaping net.
It was a fine way to enter the half, and when US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said his team just needed to keep the Brazilians off the board for the first fifteen of half two, one sensed real belief in a comeback.
So it was doubly cruel when Brazil’s third goal came seven minutes later and looked oh-so-similar to Gomez’s.
Marcelo restores the two-goal lead
Marcelo, active all game, drove down the center before dropping the ball to Hulk on the left. His no-look pass found Neymar near the endline and his low cross was pounded home by Marcelo, finishing his run. It was like Brazil took the gorgeous build-up to the American goal… and added a pretty finish.
The US responded by bringing Clint Dempsey on for the largely invisible Torres, and by reminding Marcelo to think twice before playing a rugged game.
Jermaine Jones slid through the left back on the touch line and received a caution, so when Marcelo retaliated by kicking the ball at a prone Steve Cherundolo, he picked up a caution and a few words of advice from Herculez Gomez.
Gomez had the chance to back up his mouth moments later when Johnson again lost his marker and sent in a cross that the American striker nodded back across net. Dempsey charged in on the empty net but Romulo slid in to lift the ball over the crossbar and out of play. It was brilliant defending and typified the silent but solid role the Brazilian midfield played throughout the match.
Alexandre Pato, the only holdover from the last meeting between Brazil and the United States, entered for Damiao in the 65th and hit the post a minute later. Neymar created a chance from nothing and, zipping in on the left, laid the ball into Pato’s path but the striker’s stabbed shot run the woodwork.
That other goalie
The only position where the US can claim superiority over Brazil is in net, but debutant Rafael matched Tim Howard throughout Wednesday’s friendly. The young Brazilian’s Kodak moment came in the 76th minute when Gomez beat the defense and blasted a half-volley into Rafael’s chest. The first save was professional, but the next was the premium stuff. Substitute Terrence Boyd was first to the loose ball and connected well from eight yards out. Rafael leapt to his feet then stuck said feet out in a desperate lunge that denied Boyd his first goal with the senior squad.
Sensing an American resurgence, Neymar slowed play and, goading Michael Parkhurst into a challenge, zoomed past the American defender the way EZ-Pass drivers move through toll plazas.
But all the foot skills in the world couldn’t take the spotlight off Rafael. In the 85th, he came up huge again to save Michael Bradley’s goal-bound header, though the keeper had the crossbar to thank when the resulting corner stayed out.
Pato’s classy finish
In the end, it was Pato, fighting for a starting spot, who had the goal of the night. Substitute Lucas met resistance on the left, so he pulled back for Marcelo. His searching cross found Pato far on the right, and the striker’s first touch to control was surpassed only by his drilled finish low and into the far side netting. Few can beat Tim Howard once he has set his feet; Pato can add his name to the list.
The scoresheet shows how far the US has to go, but the resilience showed by the American stalwarts is more than a negligible positive. The return of Clint Dempsey raised as many questions as it answered, with the team switching into a 4-2-2 upon the midfielder’s arrival. How Klinsmann will set up with both Donovan and Dempsey in the lineup remains to be seen, but it seems more likely the formation will involve Herculez Gomez one way or another.
Oguchi Onyewu’s return to the lineup was less promising, though asking any defender to shine against Brazil is like asking a beanbag chair to provide adequate back support. Just keep dreamin’.
The standout American was once again Fabian Johnson. His driving runs were more than just show, as he created a goal and set up the next best chance.
The United States have one more friendly against Canada (in Canada) before World Cup qualifying begins.
USA: Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson (Castillo ’80), Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo (Parkhurst ’73), Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu (Boyd ’73), Jermaine Jones (Beckerman ’80), Jose Torres (Dempsey ’56), Landon Donovan, Herculez Gomez
Brazil: Rafael, Marcelo (Alex Sandro ’89), Thiago Silva, Juan, Danilo, Sandro, Oscar (Giuliano ’89), Romulo, Neymar (Lucas ’84), Hulk (Casemiro ’82), Damiao (Pato ’65)