John Smallwood: Some pluses seen in USA's loss to Brazil
LANDOVER, Md. — OK, so this is what a plan looks like.For more than a half decade under former head coach Bob Bradley, the U.S. senior men’s soccer team appeared to employ a strategy of run, kick and hope to get lucky. That’s clearly an oversimplification and, to be fair, sometimes it produced some impressive results.
LANDOVER, Md. — OK, so this is what a plan looks like.
For more than a half decade under former head coach Bob Bradley, the U.S. senior men's soccer team appeared to employ a strategy of run, kick and hope to get lucky.
That's clearly an oversimplification and, to be fair, sometimes it produced some impressive results.
Still, Bradleyball mostly reinforced the reality that the United States wasn't ready to succeed on the prime-time stage of international soccer.
And after each frustrating setback, I'd ask myself what was the United States trying to do? Too often, my answer was, "I have no idea."
So now it seems a little strange to watch a U.S. team play with purpose.
Under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was appointed last July after Bradley was sacked, the USA is proactive instead of always reactive.
It looks to implement its own style of play rather than have one dictated to it.
It just looks as if more is getting done.
Klinsmann is not a miracle worker. He started out 1-4-1 before winning five straight matches.
Still, the truth remains that the United States will not go from losing to Ecuador in October to beating Brazil in May — even in an international friendly such as the one Wednesday at FedEx Field.
Brazil is the only five-time World Cup champion, and losing to a team at the level of the USA is never on the agenda. It improved to 16-1 all-time against the United States with a 4-1 victory.
But honestly it wasn't so much about the final score for the Americans. It was that they went at Brazil.
Chasing a game against Brazil and its lethal counterattack is always perilous, but the idea that the United States was confident enough to play boldly was encouraging.
To attempt nothing while losing, 1-0, is not producing sometime to build on.
That wasn't the case on Wednesday.
"We go down, 1-0, on a questionable penalty call," said Klinsmann, who was clearly displeased with the lack of respect his team got from the officials. "Then the second goal came and you are chasing Brazil, which is difficult, because once you do that, you open up space and they are so good when they counter break against you.
"From a performance side, we saw a lot of good elements. We had enough chances to get a second goal. We created quite a lot of chances against a top, world-class team."
There were chances — several thwarted by great saves from Brazilian keeper Rafael and another by a crossbar.
But the goal the United States did score came from a combination of execution as good as you will see from any nation. Going down the left side, midfielder Michael Bradley pushed a vertical ball into space in the Brazil penalty area. Fabian Johnson, overlapping as an attacking defender, raced past two Brazilians and chipped a pass back toward the 6-yard line.
Thirty-year-old forward Hercules Gomez, earning just his 10th cap for the USA, headed in his third career goal.
If you can start by acknowledging that Brazil is simply the better squad, then there is more to take from this than just another loss to Brazil.
Klinsmann has instituted a style that "has tempo in it. It has one-two touch combinations through our midfielders as fast as possible, finding the forwards up there, having pace. Build from the back, no long balls."
You saw it Saturday, when the USA smashed Scotland, 5-1. You saw it several times against Brazil. The Americans weren't about to beat the Brazilians, who perfected a similar brand of play decades ago, on Wednesday, but they were pushed to perform at their highest level.
A friendly is one of the few games in which a moral victory can mean something.
The United States had brought a five-match winning streak into Wednesday, including a first-ever win over Italy. Klinsmann could have played things conservatively, but he truly wanted to see how far his team could push against a team that is always among the world's top two or three.
"For us, it's about how do we get closer to those teams," he said. "We want to play the big nations. We want to play Brazil and Italy and France. It's out of those games that we get a lot."
This match brought out the plucky side of Klinsmann — the one he developed as a World Cup winning player for Germany.
FIFA will likely fine Klinsmann for some of his animated criticism of the officiating, but he also was trying to make a point to his team.
He said he feels his team needs to start playing with more of an "edge" to earn some of the perks that tops squads always seem to get.
"We need to step on a few more toes," Klinsmann said. "Push back. Fight for some of the calls that Brazil got. We need to get a little nastier. Maybe we don't like that. But it needs to be developed."
Klinsmann took chances. Down the road, when things count, his players will have a better understanding of their potential and limitations.
The United States begins qualification for the 2014 World Cup against Antigua & Barbados on June 8 and at Guatemala on June 12.