Brazil teaches USMNT youngsters a lesson in mismatch
The U.S. national team spent Friday night chasing Brazilians and learning a harsh, but needed lesson from a better, more experienced side
If June’s 1-1 draw with eventual World Cup winner France was a confidence booster for the U.S. national team’s young generation, then Friday’s 2-0 to Brazil was the harsh but necessary reminder of just how unforgiving international soccer can be at the highest level.
The Brazilians toyed with the USMNT for the better part of 90 minutes at MetLife Stadium, displaying the obligatory level of quality you come to expect from the Selecao. This Brazil team isn’t just good, it’s also experienced, with Tite’s side featuring many of the same players who started at the 2018 World Cup, including Neymar, who raced around the field like a player eager to put on some highlight reel plays on a nervous U.S. defense.
The Americans had some fleeting moments, and Weston McKennie will kick himself for not finishing at least one of the handful of chances he put himself in position for, but the lack of a true playmaker left the U.S. attack starving for creativity against a Brazil side that did leave some space to operate. That, coupled with a shaky start by the defense in general — and Antonee Robinson specifically — helped put the Americans in a first-half hole that they never really escaped.
“It was pretty evident we had a nervous start,” U.S. interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “The ability to connect passes was a difficult chore for our group early in the game. So when you concede possession against a team like Brazil it makes it hard. You do a lot of chasing.”
“We have to learn, especially in this game, keep the ball,” U.S. captain WIl Trapp said. “But keep the ball with a purpose. I think we just had some poor giveaways that, when you’re defending and defending and defending, and you finally win it and you give it away, it just compounds the effort.”
No U.S. player had a more difficult first half than left back Antonee Robinson. The 21-year-old was making just his third national team appearance and struggled to deal with Douglas Costa’s blazing speed on the wing. It was Costa who raced past Robinson to deliver the assist on Brazil’s opening goal, scored by Roberto Firmino.
“After that first run I knew I had to be a bit more careful against (Costa),” Robinson told Goal. “Unfortunately a goal came from it. Sometimes you get lucky and that doesn’t happen and you switch your game up quickly. I’ve got to be a bit more careful and in the second half I thought I did that.”
“In the first half everybody had some difficulty, not only Antonee, I think the whole team,” U.S. defender John Brooks said. “We played a good opponent, everybody could see that. Douglas Costa is a World Class player and Anthony is still young.”
The Americans enjoyed more promising stretches in the second half, though by then Brazil was sitting on a two-goal cushion. That said, the team can take some solace in the improvement it showed over the course of the second 45 minutes.
“I thought the first half was a little nervy,” Sarachan said. “I thought the second half we had better moments of using the ball better. I thought our coordination of trying to step out wasn’t very good in the first half. We got pulled apart a little bit. I thought in the second half we improved.”
While the U.S. did have better moments in the second half, there was still a clear void in the attack in the creativity department. McKennie and Tyler Adams were deployed in advanced central midfield posiitons in front of Trapp, and that triangle struggled to make up for the absence of U.S. star Christian Pulisic, who is sitting out the September USMNT friendlies with an injury.
“We’re always going to miss a guy like Christian in any game for sure,” Sarachan said. “If we had Christian tonight it’s hard to say, I can’t say we’d have the ball 40 more percent of the time, but clearly I think when you add players into the mix that have a certain comfort level and play out of tight spots like Christian it would help. Sure, we miss Christian but I’m not sure it would have changed the way the game went.”
Brazil wound up with just one more shot than the United States (12-11), but held a 65-35 edge in possession percentage, and completed almost twice as many passes, doing so at a 90 percent completion percentage. The South Americans were more dangerous throughout the night, and while they may have been gifted a questionable penalty for their second goal, they were clearly the better team and it wasnt close.
What’s easy to forget is that the U.S. draw against France wasn’t really close either from a soccer standpoint even though the final score suggested otherwise. The big difference that day was the U.S. defense started out much more organized against the World Cup champions, and found an opening goal to give itself a cushion. By the time France pulled back for the ventual draw, Les Bleus held a 70-30 edge in possession and out-shot the USMNT an incredible 19-2.
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Despite those numbers, the U.S. team’s youngsters came away from that France draw feeling confident about having been able to earn a result. The Americans may not have pulled off another surprise on Friday against Brazil, but they and their coach agreed the match still provided plenty of value, and a lesson that was necessary, even if it was a painful one.
“Overall this was a great game for us to play,” Sarachan said. “These types of games, when you’re playing a team like Brazil, which is arguably as good as any team on the planet. It just challenges you in ways that I think will improve this group as move along.”
“It’s good for this group to go through that. It’s a baptism by fire in a lot of ways,” Trapp said. “Playing good opponents early in this cycle and understanding that, yes there’s excitement around this group, but we have to get better.”