The United States played Brazil on Friday night, and it was always going to be a daunting task. A young, inexperienced team against essentially Brazil’s World Cup squad.
To that end, it was a wonderful opportunity for the United States. They had nothing to lose by going out and hoping to compete. If it went awry, there’s plenty to be learned, and if it went well that’s a great sign. It didn’t go great, but there was plenty to draw from the match. Dave Sarachan and his team put up a great fight, and didn’t back down from one of the world’s best, refusing to bunker in and simply defending to pull out a gritty result.
Given the fact that this national team essentially hit the hard reset button after the Trinidad & Tobago loss, it’s hard to judge sheer “progress” over the last few years, but there are a few more things we can pinpoint.
1) These kids are not afraid
In the opening 10 minutes, Dave Sarachan’s kids came out and high-pressed Brazil’s World Cup squad. Not just a high press…a VERY high press. The United States had nothing to lose in East Rutherford, and they played like it early on. That’s a great sign for some of these kids, who ended up troubling the Brazilians early on with the press.
After falling behind, the US took its few opportunities and went headlong at the visitors, with DeAndre Yedlin bombing down the right flank. The half-hour mark provided an impressive spell for the hosts, as the US earned four consecutive corners and all proved dangerous. Weston McKennie was fantastic going forward and was dangerous all night in the attacking third. After Brazil scored its second on a dubious penalty call, the US went right down the other end and threatened.
Dave Sarachan after the match said that Antonee Robinson might have been a little tentative at the beginning, but if anything, his errors were from over-committing, not sitting back and letting Douglas Costa come to him. Mistakes were made by the U.S. regularly, and there were plenty of matchups that featured a significant talent gap. Still, hesitancy and trepidation was not the reason the United States was beaten tonight, and that’s a positive to be taken.
2) The rookie mistakes eventually need to end
These kids are young, there’s no doubting that. The United States starting lineup featured a full 11 players 25 years old or younger. Still, eventually this process needs an end-point, and the kids will need to learn from their mistakes. Making those mistakes in matches like this is perfectly acceptable, but learning from those mistakes is the next step.
[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT loss to Brazil ]
Take Brazil’s first goal for example. Antonee Robinson was burned by Douglas Costa down the flank because he switched off for a split second to communicate a defensive responsibility to his teammate and in the process over-committed. Costa, a player with incredible speed and instincts, took advantage and roasted the young left-back. Then, in the middle, Matt Miazga was beat by the oldest striker trick in the book – Roberto Firmino appeared to head towards the near post before drifting back to create space behind his unaware American defender.
Those mistakes are acceptable at this stage against this opponent, and they provide valuable learning experiences, but eventually those need to be learned from, or they will have been in vain.
3) Bobby Wood is fourth on the striker depth chart
Bobby Wood started the match at striker over Timothy Weah, and many fans were disappointed not to see the young, in-form PSG attacker earn the majority of the minutes. Wood struggled from the onset, giving the ball away cheaply which caused promising attacks to disintegrate, and he failing to find space up front. That is largely due to the strength of the opposition, but he still should be able to pick a spot or two over the course of 55 minutes. He ended up with nothing.
Weah came on with a little over a half-hour to go, and he proved more dangerous and decisive on the ball. He cut in from the left to earn Wil Trapp a long-range effort that forced Alisson into a shaky save in his most notable moment in an otherwise collectively sleepy second half. Weah should ultimately be ahead of Wood long-term on the depth chart, as is likely first-choice selection Jozy Altidore and young Josh Sargeant. Wood is a fine option, but he coughs up possession far too often, and against strong opponents like this, he cannot afford moments of inaccuracy when the team needs to value possession.
4) This defensive partnership can stay
Despite the early mistakes on the opening goal, Matt Miazga and John Brooks played quite well against one of the world’s best teams. There’s serious potential in this defensive partnership, and those who championed Miazga with Cameron Carter-Vickers seem to have forgotten about the experienced Brooks. Especially considering these two had only played 45 competitive minutes together before tonight, it was a stellar showing for the duo, and one that will give U.S. fans plenty of hope for the future. Had the back line not been exposed by poor wing defending, it might have been an even better night for the defense as a whole. Miazga was required out wide right on a couple of occasions to help cover defensively, and he did well in space, a difficult ask of a central defender. Not only that, they were dangerous on set-pieces with the U.S. threatening the most on corners. These two can grow together, and with CCV also in the mix, the U.S. suddenly appears set up at a position they’ve struggled to find consistently for a long time.
5) – This team needs leadership. Now.
Dave Sarachan has done a fine job ushering in a new era of players into the national team, but he serves little value to the US otherwise. The kids are doing their best on the field, but need a clear direction for the long-term future, and they need it now. The longer the United States waits to hire a coach, the more time is wasted to find new talent, create a plan for moving forward, and implement that plan on the field. The World Cup may be four years away, but valuable days are being thrown in the trash. The team needs a direction, and they need the leadership to implement that direction. The team has no chance against the world’s best without that leadership, and it showed tonight. These matches serve little purpose if they don’t come with direction and long-term values. Earnie Stewart may want to take his time, but that’s not in the best interest of this national team, and we saw that on the field tonight.