Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
LANDOVER, Md. — The U.S. men's national team has had 10 months to fine-tune things under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and now they will get to see just how far they have come along.
The United States will take on five-time World Cup champions Brazil on Wednesday night at FedEx Field in a high-profile friendly that the Americans are using as to gauge where they stand before World Cup qualifying begins next weekend.
The Americans are coming off a big 5-1 win after defeating Scotland in their first summer friendly on Saturday, and they are hoping to build on that against a Brazilian team that, despite missing several of their top stars, still has plenty of ability.
"They love to dictate their own game, they're used to kind of set the tone and they have wonderful players, there's no doubt about it," said Klinsmann. "But now it's interesting for us, the situation is how much can we take to them, how much can we go eye-to-eye on the field in certain areas and elements in terms of tempo, in terms of tactical approach, in terms closing them down and also play our game and go forward and cause them some trouble.
"It's an exciting benchmark that we face. It will tell us a lot about where we are in our process, and it will definitely help us for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers."
Klinsmann will likely once again opt not to start Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. The two U.S. attackers are trying to catch up to speed with the rest of the team in terms of fitness after missing the first week of the U.S. team's training camp, and that should force them to come off the bench versus Brazil, if at all.
Who Klinsmann decides to put in their place is more of an unknown. He could go with Terrence Boyd and Jose Torres (the two players who filled in for the aforementioned duo against Scotland), or he could go with putting in a more experienced forward like Herculez Gomez or Chris Wondolowski up top, or he could switch from the 4-3-3 formation to something else.
Whoever starts, though, will be given the unenvious task of having to chase down Brazilian attackers. From Neymar and his dazzling dribbling skills to the prowess of Hulk, Leandro Damiao and Alexandre Pato inside the penalty area, the United States will need to put forth a disciplined defensive effort to give themselves a chance in the game.
"Naturally, they like to dominate the ball, dominate possession," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "We clearly know that, but we were good the other night on the counterattack and our football was really good and how we possessed it. It'll be wide open and that's how they like to play the game, but we're going to try and do a few things to put the game in situations we like."
Taking the game to the young Selecao side is part of the plan for the United States. Just as they did against Scotland last Saturday and to a lesser extent against Italy in a historic win in February, the Americans want to try and get forward and exploit some of the space the Brazilians might leave as they push forward.
In the past, the U.S. team has been content to sit and counter. But Klinsmann wants players like Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley to try and push the tempo against the skilled Brazilians when they can, and he will also try and push his defensive line up the field if possible.
"Obviously, you see that during the game how far you can go high up and put pressure on them in their own half and make the spaces really tight and difficult for them to come through," said Klinsmann. "The fascination of the Brazilian style is obviously how they change positions. Their strikers how they come into midfield, midfield become strikers, even fullbacks become strikers if you look at Marcelo or Danilo, they are used to go and play right wingers. That's what their style is about: that everybody loves to attack from their end."
Containing the Brazilians is no easy task, but the Americans are no strangers to the South American powerhouse. The match against Brazil will mark the fifth time the two teams have met since 2007. And although the United States has never beaten the Brazilians in that window, the Americans are confident they can get a result if they play to the capabilities they have demonstrated in recent months.
"Every team has their strengths and weaknesses," said Klinsmann. "Undoubtedly they have a lot of strengths, but they also have some weaknesses, so hopefully we can take advantage of a few of them."