Brazil 3, USA 2: A Look Back

Brazil 3, USA 2: A Look Back

U.S. Men's National Team

Brazil 3, USA 2: A Look Back

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The U.S. national team had Brazil on the mat, but the five-time world championship reminded us why its trophy case is full.

The United States' 3-2 loss to Brazil wasn't about subs not made, or made too late. It wasn't about American mistakes. It was about the Brazilians' talent, determination and belief that their beautiful soccer would always help them find a way to win. Could have things broken a certain way to help the Americans pull off a dream victory? Yes, but the fact that they didn't doesn't take away from the progress made and respect earned by the U.S. team on Sunday and throughout the Confederations Cup.

Sure, nobody wants moral victories, and the victories against Egypt and Spain had the U.S. team feeling like it could beat anybody, but the reality is that the U.S. team in South Africa overachieved and pushed itself to new levels that will only help the national team program as it moves toward World Cup 2010.

So what went wrong on Sunday? After a truly impressive first-half of soccer, the Americans were done in by crushing early goal and an unrelenting Brazilian attack that had the weapons to eventually pick apart the previously-stingy U.S. defense.

Luis Fabiano's early second-half goal was absolutely vital because it meant the Brazilians only spent 40 seconds dealing with the burden of erasing a two-goal deficit. Once Fabiano's first strike went in, the Brazilians knew they would find more chances and an inevitable equalizer. That early goal also cast some doubt in the mind of the U.S. team, which had to know Brazil would start pouring on the pressure.

The Brazil attack was brilliant at continuously feeding its most dangerous players, Kaka, Robinho and Maicon, who pumped in service from the flanks seemingly at will. Jonathan Spector and Carlos Bocanegra did all they could to stem the tide in the first half but by the second half the repeated attacks were destined to bear fruit for the Brazilians. When Dunga inserted Dani Alves and Elano to provide even more ammunition to the wing attack (as well as give his team two serious set piece threats), the Americans were bound to cave.

Fabiano's second goal came courtesy of a beautiful Kaka run and cross, and while Spector was the player beaten by Kaka, he was hardly the only one to blame for letting the ball through. Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra both had opportunities to stop the cross, but neither succeeded, and when Robinho's shot hit the crossbar, Fabiano took advantage of a rare lapse in concentration by Oguchi Onyewu and headed home the equalizer.

Bob Bradley was keenly aware that his team was tiring, and becoming more vulnerable, but he had few options to turn to. Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan Bornstein were set to come into the match when Fabiano tied the game, and while it is easy to say now that an earlier substitution would have prevented the goal, the fact remains that all the U.S. players involved in Brazil's second goal would have still been on the field.

If Bradley's substitutions revealed anything, it was how thin the U.S. roster actually was in this tournament. With Michael Bradley suspended and DaMarcus Beasley suffering through a terrible run of form, the Americans had few reliable and experienced options to bring off the bench. There is already second-guessing going on about why Jose Francisco Torres and Freddy Adu weren't used, but neither player would have made a bit of difference in stopping Brazil's onslaught on the flanks in the second half. While it can be argued that Torres would have been a better option than Kljestan, Bornstein's inclusion was certainly appropriate given the U.S. team's need for some speed and fresh legs on the flanks.

We should really stop and take a minute to look at the disparity in talent between the two teams. While the U.S. team's nucleus is strong, its fringe and bench players in this tournament were not up to par compared to Brazil (and that would have been the case even if injured options such as Maurice Edu, Brian Ching and Steve Cherundolo were available). Brazil's second-half subs were Dani Alves and Elano, two players worth eight figures on the open market, and Dunga never even used Alexandre Pato. Bradley turned to a pair of MLS players who, while they may actually be headed to Europe this summer or winter, aren't anywhere near the same class (and the same could have been said even it was Torres and Adu instead of Bornstein and Kljestan).

Lucio's game-winning header may have taken away the U.S. team's chance at a moment of glory, but it didn't erase the 225 minutes of inspired soccer the Americans put together from the Egypt match to the Brazil match. That stretch of soccer has given this U.S. team invaluable experience and confidence and is sure to become a seminal moment for this group. The Americans will not only learn from their successes, but also from the second-half failure against Brazil.

Here are the USA player grades for the 3-2 loss to Brazil:

  • Tim Howard (8)– Made clutch save after clutch save and deservedly won goalkeeper of the tournament honor.

  • Jonathan Spector (6)– Provided a perfect cross on Dempsey's goal and stopped attack after attack from Brazil before finally giving in on Brazil's equalizer. Still a very strong performance.

  • Carlos Bocanegra (5)– Made some key stops but was beaten repeatedly by Maicon, whose pace and ability to get perfect crosses off quickly troubled Bocanegra all match.

  • Oguchi Onyewu (6)– Dominated in the air again but had some mental lapses that gave Brazil a few golden chances.

  • Jay DeMerit (5.5)– Beaten for Brazil's first goal, DeMerit looked a notch below the player who stifled Spain.

  • Clint Dempsey (6.5) – Clutch finish on the first USA goal but he didn't have the same impact defensively he had in previous matches and that hurt the U.S. team.

  • Landon Donovan (7) – Wonderful work on his goal but, like Dempsey, he didn't display the same defensive tenacity he showed against Spain.

  • Ricardo Clark (6.5) – Stepped up and put in a ton of work in midfield to help make up for the loss of Michael Bradley, with his smart pass leading to the break on Donovan's goal.

  • Benny Feilhaber (6)– Showed very good work rate and ability to provide defensive bite, but he tired in the second half and started fouling, which lead to him being subbed out.

  • Charlie Davies (6) – Great pass to assist on Donovan's goal, and showed confidence and fearlessness, but he committed too many turnovers and didn't have many passes aside from his assist. 

  • Jozy Altidore (5.5) – Drew his share of free kicks but failed to muster any dangerous chances. Fatigue got the better of him in the second half.

  • Sacha Kljestan (3) – A turnover machine while he was in the match.

  • Jonathan Bornstein (4.5) – Gave the team some energy, and had one decent shot, but he was never going to slow down Brazil.

  • Conor Casey (NA)– Not enough time to do anything.

Now that you have had a day to digest and reflect, what did you think of the U.S. team's performance in Sunday's final? Proud of what they accomplished or still upset that they blew the lead? Feeling good about the team's future?

Share your thoughts below.

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