Neil W. Blackmon
Fresh off the most dominant performance of the Klinsmann era, and perhaps the most dominant display by a U.S. MNT midfield in a decade Saturday against Scotland in Jacksonville, the United States plays game two of what Jurgen Klinsmann last week called a “five game tournament” tonight against a youthful, experimental but surely talented Brazilian side at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. If Clint Dempsey plays as expected (he has tweeted that he will come off the bench), it will also (remarkably) mark the first time in the Klinsmann era Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have been on the field together under the new regime. Now eleven matches old, the Klinsmann era, which started slowly, has begun to display remarkable progress transitioning from the guarded, defensive-minded counterattacking schemes of Bob Bradley to what Klinsmann calls a “proactive, possession oriented” attack. Wednesday night’s match, against a younger but still immensely talented Selecao is a great test, particularly given Saturday’s initial dividends of the U.S. playing a “proactive” style of football. Was Saturday the perfect combination of a fine American performance by a mostly full top-side against a slightly weakened and altogether mediocre opponent, or was it that AND the beginning of an American team that refuses to play reactive football and yield the initiative, even against top opponents? Certainly these questions loom large as American fans prepare for tonight’s tilt.
Before addressing what we would like to see out of the Americans, and what we’ll see out of Brazil– the fact that the U.S. enters with a five game winning streak that included a frustrating, but fully capable “old style” effort against Italy in Genoa is worth a bit more reflection. Games like Wednesday matter little in comparison to the World Cup Qualifying task that lies ahead beginning against Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa on June 8. But these games absolutely have a rightful place as a measuring stick for where the U.S. program is, and just how far the senior side has come in the ten months since Jurgen Klinsmann was handed the reins and a great deal of control over U.S. Men’s Soccer’s future. Jurgen Klinsmann knows this, and reflected to us on the stakes of this type of “friendly” a bit Saturday night after the win.”We were able to do some good things tonight, getting forward in attack and dictating play. When you look at the best sides in the world, they make opponents adjust to their way of doing things. Brazil just beat Denmark 3-1, and they did so doing just that. We’re trying to establish that mentality, and we’re doing well. But we’ve got a long way to go.”
It’s a toss-up whether this match, the initial Mexico friendly, or a B-plus Italian team in Genoa is the sternest test yet for Klinsmann’s new system and his charges– but one thing is for certain: Brazil, young side or no, is gearing up to do the only thing acceptable in the home country: win the 2014 World Cup on home soil. As such, and with a group of young players that handily qualified for the U-23 Olympic tournament in London next month, Coach Mario Menezes is mixing youthful regulars with Olympians in an effort to establish confidence and pecking orders in the two-year run up to the home tournament. As such, the U.S. is facing a team with no choice but to hungry and ready to fight for their spot on a team whose only appropriate destination is the World Cup Champions date with immortality. If that isn’t enough to bring the best out of a talented, inexperienced group– nothing will be. And the U.S. best be ready.
Onto the matchups, who to watch, where to watch, weather and the like…
The Series: This is the 17th all time meeting between the United States and Brazil. Brazil has won fifteen, with the Yanks’ registering their lone win 1-0 in Los Angeles in the build-up to the 1998 World Cup. And yes, John Harkes was on the pitch for the red, white and blue that evening…
The Weather: 75, mostly clear at kick. A very light wind off the Potomac….
Projected Eleven Yanks on the Pitch When Toe Meets Leather:
D: Cherundolo, Onyewu, Bocanegra (C), Johnson
M: Edu, Bradley, Jones
Wing: Donovan, Torres
What We’re Hoping To See From The Yanks:
Notably, we’re betting Torres stays in since Dempsey will come off the bench, and we’re expecting Jozy to get the first team look over Terrence Boyd…
In a perfect world, we’d like to see the United States play the “proactive, offensive minded football” that Jurgen Klinsmann promised when he took the reins. We’d like to see more of what we saw Saturday night in Jacksonville. The truth is, old habits are hard to break, and even a youthful, experimental Brazil is an elite side internationally. Under Klinsmann, when facing elite sides, the United States have resorted after brief spells to the old bunker and counter mentality, with the possible exception of half the game against France in Paris, where they held an unusually high line even if they didn’t gobble up much possession. The United States generated controlled and yet unpredictable chances in the final third against Scotland by taking the initiative– and there is little debate over how refreshing this was and how it may not be an aberration given the form of the two men in the central midfield. Can the United States sustain that type of initiative against an elite side that will, in all likelihood, control most of the possession?We asked MB 90 Saturday night if he thought there would be less space and that would dictate a reversion to the old style– and he pointed out that while that is possible, the opposite may also be true. “There is a chance it could be the opposite, actually”, Bradley said. “Teams like Brazil put lots of pressure on the ball and move the ball so well into areas of space, but what we’ll need to do is be quick and decisive with the ball when we do get possession. If you do that against high-pressure teams, there is actually more space at times,” Bradley said.
If that’s an indication that the U.S. is ready to advance against a great team with its new mentality, then so be it.The reality is that it would be less dangerous, and refreshing, to see the U.S. play somewhere in between its pressing style vs. Scotland and its bunker-and-counter style utlized in Genoa. Even without the dreaded Ganso/Neymar combination at Menezes disposal– Brazil could make mince meat of the U.S. if they pressed as much tonight as they did Saturday. So a happy medium would be a great start. The Americans have shown a willingness under Klinsmann to pick their spots against better teams and attack– particularly as noted against France and Belgium. Tonight would be a great night to perhaps do that a bit more– and the U.S. should have the confidence to do so. Of course, MB 90 will need to lie deeper than he did Saturday– Klinsmann can’t rely on Edu to be a “traditional, clean up 6” against Brazil without help– but nothing in Bradley’s recent display of play suggests he isn’t aware of that responsibility. And helping the 6 man is certainly something Jermaine Jones grew accustomed to in his Champions League experiences. The good news is this is an inexperienced Selecao side the U.S. are facing, with Thiago Silva and his 26 caps its most-seasoned player– and that might mean the U.S. has the chance, if it remains disciplined, to dictate play for spells. Wouldn’t that be something?
What We’ll See From Brazil:
A young, exciting, immensely talented group that, as the great Jeff Carlisle wrote in his worthy preview, can “implement new styles as if they are breathing.” As noted above, Thiago Silva is the leader of this team with 26 caps, and he’ll anchor the defense, which has the most unknowns in the side. David Luiz, known around these parts as “Clint Dempsey’s girl after this little fiasco,” although you can also call him “European Champion”, was a late scratch. As for attacking talent, the Brazilians have loads of it. Neymar is the most famous, and at 21, every bit of that acclaim is well-earned, but he’ll also be joined by Porto forward Hulk, who scored this beauty against Denmark, and the enigmatic but dangerous Alexandre Pato, who is coming off a disappointing campaign and surely hoping to set a tone for the Olympics and his future in the side. As noted above, Neymar’s ability to play with tremendous skill on the ball while running at defenders through the center demands that Maurice Edu have help, and that responsibility will fall on Jones and Bradley. Staying disciplined will be key, as will a better performance from Geoff Cameron, if he in fact earns another start. Cameron’s positioning was off on at least two occasions Saturday night, both of which would have resulted in massive danger if not for a poor ball over his head and a timely punch by Tim Howard. While the own goal was more a result of lack of American pressure on the ball and bad luck than it was Cameron’s fault– it wasn’t the best night for Cameron, and he’ll have to better if he hopes to cement a starter’s role.
Around the web:
Brian Straus of The Sporting News sees this match as a barometer for progress under Klinsmann, and it’s hard to argue with that notion…
Grant Wahl is, you know, Grant Wahl.
After the 5-1 win over Scotland, hope springs Memorial, and what not. Our friends at The Other 87 Minutes lay out the ten best-case scenarios for the Klinsmann led USMNT, including, you know– a 3-2 win tonight….
Prediction: Brazil 1, USA 1
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you should follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt. He has appeared as a guest on Sirius XM’s Soccer programming, the Sports Illustrated Soccer Podcast, and also writes for The Shin Guardian.