So, Wednesday. Landover, Maryland. USMNT v. Brazil.
We all know the ending to this story already. Coming off a 5-1 win against Scotland, the boys in red, white and blue saw a role reversal and were hit with a 4-1 loss against Brazil. Feelings are mixed from fans, players and the coaches. But really, what can we take from this game?
I have to say, coming off the May 26 game against Scotland, I was feeling a little cocky. Our boys rocked it. Passes, defending, finishing … it was beautiful and like a dream. The US were playing like I wanted them too. And for a fan, I mean, isn’t that the pinnacle of it all?
Now, I’m not so cocky that I thought we were going to beat Brazil. I wished for it, I hoped for it, I prayed for it. But if USMNT fans know anything, it’s how to be pessimistic, or at the very least, completely realistic. Come on, we aren’t exactly that national team where you can predict what we’ll do. I love that about the USMNT, though – even if it gives me a damn heart attack half the time. But that’s who we are.
And I suppose you can say they stayed true to form Wednesday as well; the game completely surprised me. It boggled me a little. And I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it as I left Fed Ex field – yes, I was among the more than 65,000 fans present for the game.
I felt a lot of things. Pride was the first and strongest. That was my national team on the pitch and even though they had been down the entire game, from my seat in the 12th row of the American Outlaws section, I felt like they didn’t play like it. You might disagree on how their playing was, but you can’t deny that they didn’t have heart and they left it on the pitch.
More often than not when I attend a USMNT game and they are defeated, the feeling I have is probably best described as despair. So when the 90 minutes at Fed Ex were over, I was quite surprised when I really didn’t feel that. Yes, strange after a 4-1 loss. Some say we were stomped, but I got to say, watching the boys play and being at the game … I didn’t really feel like we were stomped.
I’ve read a lot of articles, posts, reactions and blogs after the Brazil game, sorted through stats and thought a lot about what others have said about the game. The reviews are mixed – between the pointing fingers at the ref, harping on Gooch and Landon Donovan, wishing for a fully healthy Clint Dempsey, wondering what the hell is going on in Klinsmann’s head and a barrage of other opinions, this is what I have decided.
It really wasn’t that bad.
Call me crazy, call me overly optimistic, whatever you want, but I firmly believe that the USMNT did all right for themselves. Of course, our three glaring areas were showing themselves again.
First, our central defense was sketchy – Gooch had some moments which caused me to freak out a bit, including the questionable handball, and Carlos Bocanegra had to get a little desperate against the speedy offense of Brazil. These powerhouse vets weren’t overly horrible, but I wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy inside about them like I did during the Scotland match.
But just as I worried about the central defenders, I was absolutely in love with the guys on the sides. Is anyone still questioning the amazingness of Steve Cherundolo, really? That man is essential to our back line. He’s speedy and has an eye for the game. Those talents were able to shut down several of Brazil’s plays.
Fabian Johnson was the other lovely surprise from the game. I think sometimes the fans forgot he was there til he got the ball, but whenever Brazil came at him, he was ready and he proved ready for the test. He was also instrumental in Herc Gomez’s goal in the first half and a few attacks on the Brazil offense. The kid was amazing to watch and earned the praise I’ve heard and read from many. We’ve all been afraid about what would happen when Cherundolo retires from international duty. If Johnson keeps up what he’s doing now, I think he will make an excellent replacement.
Second, our magical, beautiful, glorious midfield from the Scotland game pretty much disappeared. I have no idea where they went, but they were gone and it was obvious because Brazil took advantage and stole possession from us in the mid whenever their little speedy feet could grab it.
Our saving grace shouldn’t be surprising. Michael Bradley. This kid, seeing him in practice and then later in the game, just makes me realize even more how much he has matured as a player over the last few years. He was constantly on the ball, defending and attacking fantastically. I’ve always loved watching Michael play, but lately, it’s just beautiful to see how he can move through the midfield with the ball at his feet.
Lastly, finishing. Brazil did a great job of shutting down the combo of Landon Donovan and Jose Torres, who were our super duo during the Scotland game. Any time Landon was on the ball, it wasn’t long before he was surrounded by defenders, unable to get the space he needed to get to goal or pass it into someone else. It was clear the frustration was getting the best of our front line and while we might have had more shots than Brazil, they had more on goal, which makes all the difference.
Our wildcard, Herc Gomez. Ever since this guy’s first snub from the national team, he’s been out to prove something. And he sure as hell has. In practice, it was him and Chris Wondolowski that hit the most goals in a shootout with the strikers. His strike is pretty lethal and his determination is even more so. He had our lone goal and it was a perfect little header. He was in the right place at the right time, setting himself up to be on the end of a cross from Fabian Johnson. Herc Gomez pushed and pushed, and I thought he should have had a brace that night. If he doesn’t get more call ups after this, I will seriously start to question Klinsmann. But I’m pretty sure Herc proved himself enough that night to guarantee his spot for a while.
So what’s the moral of the story? It was clear by reading the end of the match quotes that the players and especially Klinsmann were frustrated with the game and the outcome. And they should have been. Klinsmann is getting some slack for saying the USMNT need to be nastier, more aggressive on the field. I can agree with him, but to a certain point. Not all teams are going to be as honorable as the USMNT – they are going to dive, embellish, foul hard and claim innocence. They are going to try to play head games and rely on that to get the US riled up. As Americans, we don’t play that way – we play fair and I wouldn’t want the players of the USMNT to change that. But Klinsmann has a bit of a point; if we could step our aggression up a tad, things could happen for us.
The idea of demanding a ref for a card or pleading our case more? I find that point from Klinsmann interesting – especially since during the Memorial Day open practice at the University of Maryland, when some players called for a handball during a scrimmage, I heard Klinsmann bark out, “You don’t call the handball, only the ref does! Let it go and play on!”
Some people say the US are fooling themselves if they think anything good came from the Brazil game. But I think they are wrong. The scoreline was right, I won’t contest that. But I also don’t think it reflected the USMNT’s achievement. Was there frustration and a bit of a temper tantrum seen in interviews afterward? Yes. We’re a growing team, so it’s bound to happen.
In the end, however, I hope the players and the coach remember his words from that practice day. “Let it go and play on!”