EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Young side or not, the attacking performance on Friday simply did not cut it.
The U.S. Men’s National Team was on the wrong end of a 2-0 result against Brazil at MetLife Stadium on Friday night, but what may have been the most disappointing part of the game is the way in which the Americans played when they had the ball. The U.S. not only failed to create many quality chances in the friendly, ending up with just two on the night, but finished the match with a measly 35 percent possession.
Brazil, much more experienced and loaded with many of its world-class players, was widely expected to win the possession battle. The Americans, however, expected to have more time on the ball and more looks on frame than they wound up with.
“That’s not good enough for any team, two shots on goal,” said Tim Weah. “You need to score to win and if you look at Brazil and the amount of shots that Brazil had and the amount of shots that we had, we didn’t have a lot of that and Brazil beat us 2-0. It’s something that we have to work on.”
One of the reasons why the U.S. may have struggled so much to keep possession – aside from the fact that the most creative attacker in the pool, Christian Pulisic, was absent through injury – could be the formation. Head coach Dave Sarachan deployed the Americans in what has become his preferred 4-1-4-1 set-up, seemingly with the primary focus being on staying organized and defending with numbers in order to try to win the ball back and then attack.
The defense-first mentality invited the talented Brazilians into the U.S. half from the onset, and that, combined with the Americans’ imprecision with their own passes, was one of the reasons why the South American side bossed the match essentially from start to finish.
“The 4-1-4-1, we’re familiar with that system,” said Sarachan when asked what the plan was to break down Brazil in that formation. “The hope is that we would have the ball a lot more because in previous games where we had more possession in that system, not to get too technical, but our wide guys can be more tucked inside [and] we can release more guys from the center part of the field to go at goal.
“On a night like tonight where you’re doing a lot of defending, it’s tough job for one lone striker without a lot of support. I don’t think the system was the issue tonight. I think it was a little bit of lack of quality, I think it was a little bit of lack of patience and playing against a team that’s pretty darn good.”
The technical and savvy Brazilians, of course, merit acknowledgement for the dominant display they put forth. They moved the ball well, were efficient in converting their chances with goals in the 11th and 43rd minutes, quickly put out fires defensively, and even demonstrated a wide array of their trademark flicks, tricks, and crowd-pleasing flair.
The U.S., however, did not have many numbers in the attack to try to trouble the opposition. Lone striker Bobby Wood found himself starved of service and largely disconnected from the rest of his teammates, and the midfield did not have enough accuracy or ideas the few times the U.S. did try to attack.
“He just wanted us to try and be confident as we are,” said midfielder Weston McKennie when asked about what Sarachan wanted from the team tactically. “We’re a young group and young players tend to have swagger, have a little bit of confidence going into games like this and he just wanted us to be ourselves and express ourselves in the field.
“Also what he wanted was to get the ball and turn and go forward and instead of playing the diagonal pass back to find the space, play the diagonal pass forward and be confident and take the risk and if it doesn’t work out then try it again next time until it does.”
The U.S. has now scored just seven goals in as many games under Sarachan’s watch, with three of them coming against Bolivia in May, and the attacking side of the game is clearly in need of some improvement ahead of the remaining fall friendlies.
As a result, more experienced reinforcements could be on the way in the near future.
“Scoring goals is hard,” said Sarachan. “We don’t have a plethora of forwards in our pool. That’s an area – we still need to improve that position. When we start adding in some other players as we move along that maybe can help, whether it’s Christian, whether’s it a guy like Jozy (Altidore) down the line. I think it’s still an area that we need some more depth for sure.”
Some fans and observers will argue in the coming days that the U.S. should have played a more attack-minded formation given that there was absolutely nothing at stake in the game. After all, Sarachan talked about not wanting to see his players play with fear in the lead-up to the game, only to then take a more conservative approach with his lineup.
“[In the second half] we found a better game plan and we found a way to approach the game better,” said McKennie. “I think we got more confident on the ball and realized, ‘Hey, we have nothing to lose. We can play against teams like this,’ and we showed it against France this summer.”
Certainly, having more numbers in the attack would not have guaranteed the U.S. more success from the run of play, let alone change the result into a more favorable one. Regardless, what was clear after the defeat was the young Americans could have played a lot better, even against mighty Brazil.
“I feel like we came out the gate a little timid and that played a toll, because the Brazilians once you give them a chance they’re going to take it,” said Weah. “I feel like we have to work on that.”