USA-Brazil: Any positives outweighed by inability to connect passes and problems up front

The USA's 2-0 defeat to Brazil on Friday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., should have come as no surprise.

After all, losing to Brazil is nothing new. The USA has lost 18 out of 19 meetings, the lone victory -- 1-0 in the 1998 Gold Cup semifinals -- growing in lore with each passing year.

Just 12,298 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum witnessed Preki's screamer from 22 yards -- the first U.S. goal against Brazil in 68 years -- and a performance from Kasey Keller in goal -- 10 saves -- so good that Brazilian star Romario famously called it “the greatest performance I have ever seen in a goalkeeper."

By contrast, Friday's match, a low-key affair decided early on Roberto Firmino's goal, will quickly fade from our memories. Friendly games generally produce few surprises, and the first test of the 2018-19 season was no exception. Here's what was confirmed ...

1. Brooks and Miazga have locked down starting jobs

John Brooks played just his second game in the last year for the USA, and his steady performance was a reminder just how much he was missed in the final four games of the 2017 Hexagonal when the USA fell flat on its face.

The 25-year-old German-American, off to a great start in the Bundesliga, was rarely caught out of position against Brazil, provided a passing option out of the back that has always been a big U.S. weakness and was dangerous on set-pieces.

Since the early start of the new cycle, Matt Miazga has been the leader of the backline and except for losing Firmino on the opening goal he did not look out of place against the Brazilians

Both are starting on mid-level teams in big five European leagues -- Brooks at Wolfsburg, Miazga at Nantes in France -- so they'll get great competition this season. The key will be keeping both of them healthy.

2. Young group's resilience confirmed

Brazil scored its first goal so easily -- Douglas Costa burned left back Antonee Robinson and whipped in a cross to Firmino for a tap-in -- the second goal, converted by Neymar after a soft penalty, came so late in the first half that the Americans could have easily been deflated.

This is the youngest national team regularly playing together in 30 years -- three starters against Brazil were 25, five were 23 and the other three were 19, 20 and 21 -- but it doesn't lack self-belief.

“I think there could have been a situation where maybe we our confidence was blown [after the early goal]," said Coach Dave Sarachan, whose record is even at two wins, two losses and three ties since taking over 11 months ago on an interim basis. "That’s one of the things I’ve noticed with this group over the course of many friendlies now, they don’t lack confidence. I think that’s an important mentality for this group and for all the guys around the national team. I saw some good leadership on the field with some players pulling the guys into a good mentality to say, 'Come on, let’s go.'"

3. Connecting passes is a chore

The strong will of American players is nothing new -- it would have been a big problem if the USA had collapsed against Brazil -- nor is their glaring weakness. Lacking is technical expertise on the ball to maintain possession and creativity to create good chances.

If you looked at the shot totals from the USA-Brazil -- 12-11 for Brazil -- you'd have thought it was an even game, but the USA's chances were mostly half-chances. Possession was a more accurate reflection of the evening: 65 percent-35 percent in favor of Brazil.

“The ability to connect passes was a difficult chore for our group early in the game,” Sarachan said, “and when you concede possession against a team like Brazil, it makes it hard, you do a lot of chasing.”

Considering the problems the USA had on the wings and the lack of a playmaker in midfield, that total of 11 shots the USA recorded was probably the lone surprise of the match.

4. Pool of forwards is very thin

First, Bobby Wood up front, and then Gyasi Zardes saw little of the ball and weren't factors in the game.

If a few young players, most notably Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, have emerged in midfield in the last year, the USA has few options up front. Tim Weah and Josh Sargent both have promise, but they are only 18 and fighting to earn first-team minutes. If says something about the current pool of strikers that Jozy Altidore remains the best player by quite a wide margin.

“Scoring goals is hard," said Sarachan. "We don’t have a plethora of forwards in our pool, that’s an area where we still need to improve the position. When you start adding in some other players as we move along, that maybe can help. Whether it’s Christian [Pulisic], whether it’s a guy like Jozy down the line…but it’s still an area where we need some depth.”
22 comments about "USA-Brazil: Any positives outweighed by inability to connect passes and problems up front".
  1. Philip Carragher, September 8, 2018 at 8:49 a.m.

    If there is one aspect of U.S. youth coaching that demands attention it's how we handle the kids with the horsepower and internal-fire to score goals. Somehow these rare players make it onto the soccer pitch, maybe play successfully and passionately for a season or three, and then somehow it all disappears. Some get their instincts screamed out of them by bad coaches who don't understand the mindset of this type of player, or some inner-team or inner-club political ($) situation displaces them, or something else, but somehow, we end up without a pool of native-born great goal scorers. I've witnessed several of these players' get misplaced or displaced over the years and it truly sad to see. These players deserve to maximize their potential and blossum into the creative force they were born to be, yet our ignorant and/or selfish coaches and leaders find a way to upend all that. 

  2. Kevin Sims replied, September 8, 2018 at 9:05 a.m.

    Huge issue indeed!

  3. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2018 at 9:58 a.m.

    Very true Philip. The coaching ethos, has changed over the decades, too much emphasis upon tactical attacking. One can structure defending, not attacking. Personally, not having two strikers (my striker partner-Steve Moyers), discourages the skilled, instinctive goal scorer. Like you, I’ve witnessed hundreds of talented strikers that for a variety of reasons were excluded. At this point, we need a Finishing School, maybe that would help remedy our anemic situation. Training/compensation should be tried/encouraged, couldn’t be worse.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2018 at 9:59 a.m.

    Very true Philip. The coaching ethos, has changed over the decades, too much emphasis upon tactical attacking. One can structure defending, not attacking. Personally, not having two strikers (my striker partner-Steve Moyers), discourages the skilled, instinctive goal scorer. Like you, I’ve witnessed hundreds of talented strikers that for a variety of reasons were excluded. At this point, we need a Finishing School, maybe that would help remedy our anemic situation. Training/compensation should be tried/encouraged, couldn’t be worse.

  5. Ben Myers replied, September 8, 2018 at 10:15 a.m.

    From where I sit, it's also need for far more work finishing, finishing, finishing.  And buildup.  As Wooden Ships says: Finishing School.

  6. R2 Dad replied, September 8, 2018 at 1:54 p.m.

    Finishing requires possession. Possession requires ball-handling. We've been trying to improve the ball-handling of athletes for decades. Maybe we should instead try to improve the fitness of ball-handlers?

  7. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2018 at 7:33 p.m.

    You’re right R2, soccer skills first, athleticism after. But, that runs counter to the pay for play machine. Big money, win, win, win. 

  8. beautiful game, September 8, 2018 at 8:58 a.m.

    Stay with the ypoung talent and forget about Jozy et al. Selective player rotation of older experienced players with a track record of inconsistency is not a recipe for success. 

  9. Kevin Sims, September 8, 2018 at 9:04 a.m.

    Except for losing Firmino on the opening goal ... Speaks volumes!!! Not okay. Very not okay. Very, very not okay.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2018 at 2:48 p.m.

    Miazga was beaten by a world class move, but there was also a cross that got past the keeper and a lack of support from the RB in the space by the far post. 

  11. beautiful game, September 8, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    Anyone ever think that the biggest piece to this NT puzzle is a play-maker MF...that was the biggest missing eyesore against Brazil...if there is such a young player with potential, CALL HIM UP!!!

  12. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2018 at 11:04 a.m.

    I absolutely agree with your earlier comment about moving forward without our previous vets. There is absolutely no benefit to do so. I appreciate anyone that’s worn the Jersey, but this is more important than an individual. For me, coming out of South Africa, I would have built the team around Feilhaber. He would have been my #10, even through today. Nobody, including Claudio and Tab (perhaps Hugo) had/has his playmaking abilities. We’ve had the wrong people leading our team for awhile. 

  13. frank schoon, September 8, 2018 at 12:10 p.m.

    Guys, we have to look at the overal picture of our soccer player development. Why is it that over the past 50years we haven't produced "a" ,I mean just "one", player with innate talent to boot to come out of US soccer. (And I don't mean Hugo or Tab who were immigrants and are basically defined as our best players, from 30 years ago). When you take into account the large population of soccer players, then you come to the conclusion there is obviously something WRONG  n how our players develop.
    Some think that sending our players to Europe is the answer, well to me it is already too late. You send a player to play in Europe in order for him  to take the rough edges off the diamond, to learn the finer aspects, insights. It is like when Cruyff in his first year as coach of Ajax saw the great young players like van Basten, Rykaard, Vanenburg, Ronald Koeman, he told them , "Yeah, you're good, but now I'm going to teach you how to play soccer". WE DON'T HAVE COACHES THAT CAN TEACH THE BETTER PLAYERS THE FINER ASPECTS OF "SOCCER". Because of that we create or develop soccer players in a "COOKIE-CUTTER fashion, programmed, and lacking any INDIVIDUALITY. 
    That is one of the problems, and this is why think "Tata", for example, would be a good choice for USMNT for with his backround he is more capable making players play better...I'm n part of the puzzle or mosaic in improving our players.
    We send players to Europe at an age who are not even developed enough in order to have to their   rough edges cut to a smooth diamond. Instead we send them to Europe to have them learn what they should have learned, in the first, back in the US. We have players playing in Europe playing in first or second division in Sweden, Lapland or some other boring soccer country....NEXT POST.

  14. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2018 at 12:20 p.m.

    Agreed Frank. 

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2018 at 3:04 p.m.

    Yes. Fundamentals before polish.

  16. Ginger Peeler, September 8, 2018 at 12:20 p.m.

    Ships, you nailed it with the “finishing school”!  In a SA interview with Paul Riley (coach of one of the pro women’s teams), a day or so ago, Riley commented on how both our men’s and women’s teams are successful in bringing the ball up the field on the wings, but have difficulty playing up the middle. Or often just playing in the middle. It seems to be inherent in U.S. soccer and, I guess, is rampant  throughout the competitive sport. Just as some coaches still adhere to the “bigger, stronger, faster player is always better”, so the coaches concentrate on always moving the ball on the wings. But, that works only up to a point. So, we advanced the ball up the field by the wings and then we continually lost it in the final third. Could rarely even get it to our forward. So, how do you train up a Preki-or-Valdarama-type who passes  crisply but accurately and, at the same time, you teach other players how to move in anticipation of that pass? Finishing School!!!

  17. frank schoon, September 8, 2018 at 12:51 p.m.

    The answer lies back home not in Europe, it is called "DEVELOPMENT'. Ships mentioned "finishing school" which is exactly what we need. I would like to see the USSF with the help of the MLS to bring in retired Great players to teach our talented youth. And specificall have those greats teach our players to their specific position or role. For example, guys like Figo, Raul,van Persie, etc,etc  from all over the world to come in and teach, give their "insights and expertise" for lets face  it where not going anywhere with some Rumdum with A-license from USSF coaching academy to teach the finer aspects of the game, BEEN THERE ,DONE THAT! for there is nothing to show for it.
    We need to stress INDIVIDUALITY first in youth soccer. Yes, sure that means lots of ball hogging, one on one and inefficient play, but that is how the Brazilians learned to play when they were young; for this is how they acquired the fine "touch'  on the ball, passing the ball around on a string as seen last night.
     Look at the US players , they all looked alike, programmed, stifflike, lacking any real individuality. If they all had blond hair, you couldn't tell them apart. They are all similar  not only in their mannerisms with the ball, but also in their reaction to the ball. Look at how the Brazilians receive the ball, using feints, you don't know which foot or which direction he's going upon receiving; you end up having the defender having to guess . But our boys ,they don't employ body feints, mannerisms to confuse the opponents, instead they look so predictable when they receive the ball or what they're going to do next with it. It is so Robotic.
    I would say send the more promising player(s)to Brazil, give them an apartment together around Copacobana beach, sign a contract which states that you must play at least 3-4 hours of soccer everyday, pickup ball, join a third or second division team ,or whatever,  play an official game once a week. The USSF will pay their salary and apartment for 3years and after that let them come back. I'm willing to bet they would stick out like a sore as compared to the grey mice  we were fielding out there last night....
    By the way did anyone notice the Brazilians, individually drew sometimes about 3 to 4 US players there by creating space for his other teammates and at the last moment pass the ball.... We don't even have that capability.

  18. frank schoon, September 8, 2018 at 1:41 p.m.

    How many crosses did we see from the US team last night, very few...the one by Arriola perfectly represents the epitome of how bad crosses are. Arriola's cross was so bad that if it weren't for stands behind the goal, they would have had to go out in to the parking lot to look underneath cars to find the ball. This wasn't the only bad cross ,there were others..
    Wood didn't do anything because he had little space. Our American attackers are developed for running in open space, and play opportunistic for they lack the skill. Sending our attackers to Germany or England is a bad move, technically, for these countries don't produce great , tricky, skillful attackers. Either send them to South America or to a club like Ajax who specializes individualistic ,nice soccer. But Germany relies on running and fighting, counter attadking soccer. Bayern has to acquire Robben, and Ribbery for  wing attacks from Holland and France. Germany hasn't produced any sly attacking wingers since Pierre Litbarski of the '80's or Stan Libuda of the 60's/70's. Klinnsman a  great German striker likewise was not a technician and basically relied on running. What I'm saying is that send defenders to Germany to learn, perhaps, but don't send players to learn the tricky ,smooth skills for striker purposes, that is better left to teams who specialize in that like Ajax or in Holland that have produced so many great individualist strikers.

  19. Kent James, September 8, 2018 at 6:57 p.m.

    We had a very young team playing against the full Brazilian national team, and it went about as well as one might expect.  I don't think that means the US has no talent, all our coaches suck, and we have no creative players.  I'm not sure having Bobby Wood as the lone striker was a great formation, but probably not crazy to pack your midfield against Brazil.  Douglas Costa has some speed, so Robinson was asleep for half a second and got burned (if it was lesson learned, that would be good).  The penalty was awful, I'm not even sure there was contact.  I guess I was most disappointed that the game was not a great one to watch, but I guess getting these young players some experience against the world's best is probably more important than our entertainment.  I guess I as was also disappointed that the announcers said there were many more Brazilian fans than American ones; I thought were had gotten past that....

  20. frank schoon replied, September 8, 2018 at 8:24 p.m.

    Kent, I wasn’t expecting anything from this game for it was an on going conclusion we were going to lose. So talk about the youth or inexperience of this team or whether it was a penalty or not was totally meaningless to me. The reason I watched it was  to see how our guys handled the ball under pressure, their technical skills, how they play together, how the positioned off the ball...stuff like that and I also wanted to see how the Brazilians passed the ball around and how they positioned themselves to go on attack. In this manner I enjoyed the game for what I was looking for.  I think it perhaps disappointed those who were expected a great exciting game in which there stood a chance for the US to win.  To me I saw it perhaps and took as an intra squad game between the first and fourth string, nothing more and the bottom line was ,at least , I got to know who these American players were for I know so few of them. I also found it important for our fans to understand and see what good soccer is as displayed by the Brazilians. The fans therefore were educated at the same time.....
    The Brazilians have a large fan base  all over the world for as a matter of fact have you ever known anyone to be anti Brazil..can you imagine how bored the soccer world would  be without a Brazil.  

  21. beautiful game replied, September 9, 2018 at 9:13 p.m.

    One missing piece on USNT was that player that can make things happen at the right time.

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, September 10, 2018 at 1:23 a.m.

    What is wrong with the US MNT is not something that adding one "special" player will fix. If one player could carry a team to success, Argentina would have won a world cup with Messi.

    What the USMNT pool is missing is the high level of technical skills and sophisticated tactics expected of the top international teams. 

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