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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A young U.S. men’s national team got a reality check against five-time World Cup champion Brazil on Friday, losing 2-0 on first half goals by Roberto Firmino and Neymar in a friendly match at MetLife Stadium.
Here are four quick takeaways from the match:
1. Brazil ‘is really good’
The USMNT has managed some decent results against other global superpowers over the last two decades – the Americans held France to a 1-1 tie on the road in early June, just five weeks before Les Bleus won the 2018 World Cup – but they had lost 17 of 18 meetings all time against the Brazilians heading into Friday’s exhibition. Asked before the game why they’ve struggled so mightily against this particular foe, interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan had a straightforward response: “They’re really good.”
In front of 32,489 in New Jersey, the Selecao reminded the crowd of why they are the best national team of all time. The visitors took the lead after only 12 minutes, when Douglas Costa blew past 21-year-old left back Antonee Robinson, one of the fastest players in the U.S. pool, and served in a pinpoint cross that Firmino easily redirected past keeper Zack Steffen with the outside of his right foot. “The first goal was well executed,” Sarachan said afterward.
It seems to wake the hosts up, and the U.S. managed a few stretches where they were able to move into the Brazilians end of the field. They probed for opportunities through quick combination play, and created a few half-chances off set plays before Neymar, who was named Brazil’s captain by coach Tite on Thursday, doubled the advantage from the penalty spot shortly before halftime. But the U.S. never looked comfortable during what Sarachan called a “nervy” opening 45 minutes. “When you concede possession against a team like Brazil, it makes it hard,” the coach said.
“In the first half we even had some good chances on set pieces where the game could’ve swayed easily if we got one goal back,” said defender Matt Miazga, who was beaten on Firmino’s goal. “We have to give credit to Brazil. They played well today.”
Even if the foul called on U.S. captain Wil Trapp for the spot kick was nonexistent, it put the U.S. in a hole that it was never realistically going dig itself out of.
“This is game where lessons are learned and they’re learned harshly, because a team like this can punish you, and they did,” Trapp said. “We’re only going to improve playing difficult opponents.”
2. Some positives to build on for the U.S.
Despite the relatively easy victory for Brazil, the Americans can be proud of their showing under difficult circumstances. Sarachan once again trotted out an absurdly young team against an all-planet foe; no player in the U.S. starting lineup was older than 25. But they didn’t play poorly, and they didn’t back down. “We knew it was going to be a tough game,” right back DeAndre Yedlin said. “The effort has to be there, and I thought it was there tonight.”
In particular, the 20-minute stretch after Brazil’s opener stood out. Despite being badly out-possessed overall – Brazil kept the ball for more than 65-percent of the game – the U.S. generated 11 shots, one fewer than Brazil, although both teams had trouble hitting the target. Central midfielders Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie showed off their growing chemistry with some clever moves, even if they made mistakes along the way. “They had hit and miss moments,” Sarachan said of Adams and McKennie. “I moved Tyler a little bit wider in the second half, and they had moments I thought were pretty good. They were a little bit up and down. But that’s OK.”
The home team’s best chances came on free kicks, with McKennie nearly getting on the end two in the second half. Defensively, the U.S. pressed high and hard, and they were organized enough in the back to limit the amount of clear-cut opportunities Brazil was able to generate from the run of play. And while Steffen couldn’t do anything on either of the goals, he made two good saves to keep the score respectable.
“The last time we played them it was 4-1,” forward Gyasi Zardes, part of a much more experienced U.S. team that lost by three goals in 2015, reminded reporters following Friday’s contest. “We’re constantly progressing.”
3. The Americans missed Christian Pulisic dearly
A minor injury kept Pulisic from joining his teammates this month, and the U.S. sure could’ve used the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund standout’s creativity against Brazil.
“We definitely missed him,” Yedlin said of Pulisic. “In terms of this pool of players, he probably has the most quality on the ball. When you don’t have a player like that, you’re going to miss a bit in the attack.”
“Clearly, when we add players into the mix that have a certain comfort level in playing out of tight spots, like Christian, it would help,” Sarachan said. “But I’m not sure it would’ve changed the way the game went.”
4. Mexico match will tell us more about this USMNT
As much as the Americans were focused on Brazil this week, it was clear they also had an eye on Tuesday’s grudge match in Nashville against El Tri. Makes sense. Only eight members of Sarachan’s 24-man squad have faced Mexico before. All of his players are looking forward to proving themselves in CONCACAF’s fiercest rivalry against a more manageable foe. A similarly young and inexperienced Mexico lost to 4-1 to Uruguay on Friday.
“The game speaks for itself,” Sarachan said of Mexico, adding that lineup chances could be in store. “That’s the team in our region we’re going to have to compete with.”
“There’s a big history there,” Miazga added. “There’s going to be an extra edge.”
The atmosphere in Tennessee promises to be far more electric than it was on Friday; the stands were less than half-full against Brazil, with most of those in attendance clad in the famous yellow shirt. That the contest will be played on September 11 provides even more motivation for the Americans.
“Hopefully against Mexico it will be a totally different game,” forward Tim Weah said. “I really want to beat Mexico and it’s going to be a big day for us, 9/11.”
After Friday, the U.S. will be determined to send their supporters home happy.
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