USA vs. Brazil: Brazil Dominates in Win, but US Earns Respect
Stateside swagger, meet silky Brazilian samba.
This time, at least, there were plenty of lessons to be learned—for both sides.
First, the obvious:
By knocking the swagger out of the United States on Wednesday night, to the tune of a 4-1 beatdown at FedEx Field, Brazil's latest batch of young samba superstars underlined their world-class credentials.
Let that sink in for a moment and think about what it means.
Considering the rich, ever-flowing history of Brazilian soccer—a record five World Cup titles, along with an unmatched obsession with style—it almost seems absurd to suggest the samba masters would ever need to prove themselves against some puny, wannabe Americans.
But considering the Seleção's fortunes in recent years—no World Cup titles in 12 years in 2014, the rough equivalent of an eternity in purgatory for this zealously devoted country—and their disappointing performance two years ago in South Africa, facing a reinvigorated, reawakened, potentially resurgent US national team in America is exactly what Brazil needed.
Brazil didn't have to attack, and frankly they didn't even have to try. Wednesday's match in Landover, Md., was only a friendly, after all, and head coach Mano Menezes was fielding a squad mostly similar to the one that will compete for Olympic gold in this summer's under-23 tournament.
But attack they did, both with and without the ball, and because of it, the US never stood a chance.
Every time an American took possession, a swarm of yellow shirts descended upon him in haste, harrying and hurrying until possession inevitably swung back to Brazil.
And every time a Brazilian took possession, from Neymar and Hulk up top to Marcelo in defense, the danger felt palpable. Flowing, creative and devastatingly direct, Brazil sliced the US midfield and defense to pieces almost every time they touched the ball.
Hulk, reportedly Chelsea's latest mega-money target, played what must have been his entire bag of tricks in the first half, terrorizing the right flank the way an in-his-prime Situation once prowled the seediest spots Seaside had to offer.
Neymar, after scoring a picturesque first-half penalty, turned on the style in the second, schooling poor Michael Parkhurst along the touch line and teeing up teammate after teammate deep inside the US box.
And Marcelo, ever the hothead, flung himself from one end of the pitch to the other, completing pass after pass while still finding time to work his way under the skin of nearly every American player.
Now, what it all means:
Brazil can ball, but we already knew that. More importantly for American fans, though, they also respect the US national team.
Don't believe it? Weigh the evidence.
After a long club season, players don't work their socks off in meaningless matches if they don't think the opposition is worthy.
And in those meaningless international friendlies, world-class teams don't press high up the pitch without having genuine respect for what could happen if they didn't.
In other words, Brazil's players and coaches saw what the US did against Scotland on Saturday night, and they devised a deadly game plan to stop a dangerous American team.
What's more, they took a meaningless friendly seriously, despite bringing a squad with an average age hovering not far about 20 and despite having nothing to play for.
Besides, it wasn't all bad for the US, despite the score. There were strong performances throughout the squad, notably from forward Herculez Gomez, midfielder Michael Bradley (who really seems to have benefited from his move to Serie A club Chievo Verona) and defender Fabian Johnson.
Now, none of that suddenly makes the United States a genuine contender on the world stage, nor is it reason to celebrate a three-goal loss.
But when taken all together, it is a good sign for a team that's desperate to reinvent itself and even more desperate to reverse its fortunes under superstar manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
Two years from now, Brazil will be one of the favorites to lift the World Cup on home soil. If the Americans want to work their way into contention, they'll do well to heed the lessons dished out Wednesday night.
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