Youthful U.S. get first real reality check as Neymar, star-studded Brazil put on a show
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Three points from MetLife Stadium on Brazil's 2-0 win over the United States in an international friendly.
1. Youth is served for U.S. while Brazil feasts
The talent gap between the two sides was laid bare as the respective lineups were handed out. Brazil had five players who were regular starters during the 2018 World Cup, and another five who were reserves. Right-back on the night Fabinho was the lone interloper. The U.S. featured five outfield starters currently playing in one of the top five European leagues, but the vast majority of the players starting the match are still finding their way at the international level.
Of course, much the same was said before last June's 1-1 tie with France, though Les Bleus dominated that match. This encounter started in much the same fashion with Brazil patiently moving the ball and probing for openings. On the rare occasions when the U.S. got the ball, it couldn't keep possession for any appreciable amount of time.
The difference on this night was that it didn't take long for Brazil to translate its dominance into goals. In the 11th minute, Douglas Costa collected the ball on the right wing, and with Antonee Robinson overcommitting and taking a bad angle, the Brazilian raced down the right flank to deliver a cross that Roberto Firmino duly volleyed into the open net from point-blank range.
Brazil continued on as it had before, and it wasn't until just over 30 minutes had passed that the U.S. had enough confidence to believe it could actually threaten the visitors' goal. Weston McKennie was twice thwarted by the Brazil defense. His first chance was blocked by Thiago Silva after good work from Wil Trapp and Julian Green during the buildup, while his second opportunity from a corner saw his shot go straight into the gut of goalkeeper Alisson.
That proved to be a brief respite as Brazil continued to attack the left side of the U.S. defense, doubling their lead just before half-time with the help of a highly dubious penalty decision. Trapp was judged to have hauled down Fabinho as he darted in from the right wing, though there appeared to be minimal contact. Neymar calmly slotted home the ensuing spot kick and Brazil were cruising.
Not much changed in the second half. It took a save from Zack Steffen combined with a fantastic clearance from Matt Miazga to deny Neymar a second after another lovely pass from Costa. Neymar then went close again a few minutes later with a shot from distance.
For the U.S., McKennie threatened from another set piece midway through the second half, but his effort went wide, while Trapp had a long-distance effort that forced a sharp save from Alisson.
As is often the case, the U.S. battled hard, but this match served as reminder that this young group has a long way to go.
2. Youthful U.S. given first real reality check
During Sarachan's now seven games in charge, there have been moments when his young side has showed its inexperience. The loss last June to Ireland comes to mind when game management was an issue.
Yet this was the first time this group has been humbled. Brazil is one of the best sides in the world. But it's also difficult to find many positive performances among the U.S. contingent on the attacking side of the ball.
Steffen impressed once again in goal and had no chance on either of Brazil's two on the night. Miazga, while beaten on the opening goal, improved as the game went on. Trapp hustled and had a few bright spots in the attack and was unlucky to concede the penalty. McKennie had some dangerous moments in front of goal, and Tyler Adams did his bit to break up some Brazilian attacks.
The USMNT's limitations in attack were once again evident however, with set pieces providing the best and really the only opportunities on the night. There was little created from open play, and wide players like Paul Arriola and Green offered little.
Matters will no doubt improve when Christian Pulisic returns to the side, but the U.S. needs more than just one attacking orchestrator. Despite all of the playing time given to young players over the last 10 months, the questions of who can join Pulisic in providing a consistent creative threat seems no closer to being answered.
With a game against archrivals Mexico just four days away, this group of players will now need to regroup quickly. It's possible the game will be easy to shrug off. It was Brazil after all, and there will be no shortage of adrenalin against Mexico. But El Tri has shown itself to be team that can dominate possession as well, and it is bound to receive considerable support from the crowd. It will be up to the team's senior leadership -- a group that includes DeAndre Yedlin and Trapp -- to lift the team's spirits and move it back in a positive direction.
3. Neymar flashes the style; Firmino, Costa repay Tite's faith
Neymar was the star attraction heading into this match, and he had his moments when he entertained the announced crowd of 32,489 fans. That included a trademark flop in the first half in which U.S. defender Yedlin could be heard asking the referee, "Did you watch the World Cup?" (It was a foul though.) But there was also the usual assortment of tricks and flicks, and it took Miazga's aforementioned clearance to deny the Brazil captain a goal from open play.
But the biggest winners on the night for Brazil were Firmino and Costa.
It's worth noting that neither player started a game at the recently concluded World Cup. Though they each were impactful coming off the bench, they were deemed second choice to the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Willian, respectively.
In this match, Firmino and Costa justified their spots in Tite's starting lineup, granted, the duo will face tougher matchups than what they saw on this night. All the more reason to show well with the Brazil-hosted Copa America less than a year away.
Costa simply had his way with U.S. left back Robinson, continually shaking free to either deliver a pinpoint cross or cut inside to send the U.S. defense into scramble mode. Firmino's first-half goal was one of the easiest he'll ever score at international level, but his movement to shake free from the attentions of Miazga was nonetheless effective. Costa continued his domination into the second half and nearly set up Neymar for a second before Miazga's clearance.
With Brazil set to face El Salvador on Tuesday in Landover, Maryland, that seems a likely stage to give minutes to some less experienced players. But when the games get tougher, both Firmino and Costa have done enough to keep their spots in the lineup.