From the American fans’ standpoint, the world of international soccer is a funny thing.
After all, they’re part of a sports culture in which most professional teams have roughly five months of offseason to recharge their batteries and prepare for a new campaign every year. So the U.S. National Team returning to the field less than seven weeks after being eliminated from the 2010 World Cup can be a tough concept to grasp for the ever-growing U.S. Soccer fanbase. But that is what happened Tuesday when the U.S. and Brazil kicked off the four-year cycle leading to 2014 World Cup with a friendly at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The awkward transition between this summer’s World Cup and the start of preparations for 2014 was clear in coach Bob Bradley’s lineup choices. While most of his roster served to honor those veterans who took the team to the round of 16 in South Africa, the presence of players such as Omar Gonzalez, Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan showed a glance toward the future as well.
GK Tim Howard, 5. The Everton goalkeeper had no chance on Neymar’s header that opened the scoring. Although Howard did misread Alexandre Pato’s breakaway, his defense should take the blame for leaving him out to dry.
RB Jonathan Spector, 5. After losing the right back job to Steve Cherundolo and not playing a minute at the World Cup, Spector returned to the pitch against Brazil. He did struggle to contain Neymar, but he avoided making any crucial mistakes. U.S. fans, however, are still waiting to see if he’ll ever be able to replicate his stellar string of performances at last summer’s Confederations Cup.
CB Omar Gonzalez, 4. Picking up his first cap, the 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year was tabbed with the unenviable task of holding Brazil’s potent attack in check for 90 minutes. Often slow to react, Gonzalez lost the ever-dangerous Pato on several occasions. He clearly still has a lot of work to do in terms of judging the ball, reading the game and distributing out of the back. But at 21 years old, he also has plenty of time to develop, and seeing how he matched up with the Samba Kings can only aid his growth.
CB Carlos Bocanegra, 5. Repeatedly called upon to clean up after Gonzalez, Spector and Jonathan Bornstein, the U.S. skipper did well to hold things down in the back and limit Brazil to just two goals during his 61 minutes. That said, he probably should have communicated better with Gonzalez on Pato’s goal, as the AC Milan striker slipped right by the pairing undetected.
LB Jonathan Bornstein, 3. After struggling mightily against the Czech Republic and Turkey in May, Bornstein was a pleasant surprise to U.S. fans with two solid outings at the World Cup. Against Brazil, the Chivas USA left back came down to Earth. Not only did Bornstein’s lazy marking allow Neymar to nod home Brazil’s first tally, but he also turned the ball over far too easily and lobbed in several errant crosses that should’ve been quality opportunities.
DM Maurice Edu, 4. Following a strong start to the match, the Rangers midfielder grew noticeably fatigued as the game wore on. Concurrently, Edu must take some responsibility for the acres of space the U.S. allowed Brazil to operate with in midfield.
CM Michael Bradley, 5. Aside from allowing Ganso too much room during the build-up to Pato’s strike, Bradley was the only player able to consistently break up the Brazilian possession game. He continues to get more creative on the ball with every match, showing he could potentially be a world-class box-to-box midfielder. At just 23 years old, Bradley wore the U.S. captain’s arm band for first time against Brazil.
RM Alejandro Bedoya, 4: With Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden and DaMarcus Beasley all given the match off, a prime opportunity to start fell to the former Boston College winger who was one of Bradley’s final cuts from the World Cup squad. Bedoya, however, didn’t make much of an impact going forward and let Andre Santos send in the cross that set up Neymar’s goal.
LM Benny Feilhaber, 4: Playing against his country of birth for the fourth time in his senior international career, Feilhaber was quiet during his 45-minute stint on the left flank. Another unmemorable performance as a starter will only add to his reputation as a super-sub.
WF Landon Donovan, 6: Deployed at the withdrawn forward position he regularly occupied under former U.S. coach Bruce Arena, Donovan enjoyed an active opening 20 minutes. He deserved to earn a penalty after being taken down on an early dart into the box, and he also did well to facilitate some U.S. attacks. But Donovan disappeared from the match as Brazil took over possession, which is why Bradley prefers to play him in the midfield.
CF Edson Buddle, 6: His chemistry with Donovan was apparent early when he played a perfect ball to his Los Angeles Galaxy teammate, setting up the run that nearly drew a penalty kick. He also won numerous 50-50 balls and maintained possession well, even though he, like Donovan, faded as Brazil’s midfield began controlling the game.
GK Brad Guzan, 7. Considering the unhinged joy Brazil experienced going forward in the second half, it is a small miracle the Samba Kings didn’t add to their two-goal lead. Guzan certainly played his part by turning away a flurry of blistering shots, including a tremendous reaction save on Eduardo’s point-blank bid in the 83rd minute.
LM Sacha Kljestan, 5. The Anderlecht playmaker looked quite sharp at times cutting in from the left flank, showing a renewed confidence following his long-awaited move to Europe. Even though the goal that resulted was offside, his pinpoint service to Bradley at the far post was perfectly weighted. But late in the match, he brought back some of the lackadaisical passing that cost him a spot on the World Cup team.
CF Jozy Altidore, 4. Overly turnover prone, Altidore seemed a bit off against the Brazilians. His touch while taking on defenders individually was particularly poor, and he also failed to link up well with his teammates.
CB Clarence Goodson, 5. He partnered adequately with fellow University of Maryland alumnus Gonzalez after coming on for Bocanegra in the second half. Look for Goodson to be a crucial part of the 2011 Gold Cup squad for the Red, White and Blue.
CF Robbie Findley, 4. The Real Salt Lake striker offered what he always does: speed, energy and a real lack of polish.
RM Herculez Gomez, 6. Playing out of midfield, Gomez did well to connect on Spector’s late cross but was denied by Victor, the seldom-tested Brazilian goalkeeper.
Bob Bradley, 5. In what could very well be his final match at the U.S. helm, Bradley more or less did the best he could with a patchwork roster. Playing Donovan up top and giving Bedoya the start on the right flank didn’t pan out too well, but experiments such as that are why friendlies exist. He probably should’ve brought another holding midfielder along after Jermaine Jones dropped off the roster (Kyle Beckerman would have been a nice addition), as the team clearly needed a boost in central midfield once the muggy conditions took their toll on Edu. The open style of play demanded by the match’s circumstances did not suit the U.S. well, though, and Dempsey’s absence didn’t help matters. In the end, it was a sloppy, half-hearted effort by the U.S. that definitely did not help Bradley’s case for retaining his position.