For all the progress that the U.S. soccer team has made against top-ranked teams recently, the team still lacks the consistency and killer instinct that comes naturally for those who are the world's best.
The team was riding high on a 5-1 thrashing of Scotland, but those aforementioned shortcomings were in evidence recently when the U.S. played five-time FIFA World Cup champions Brazil before a record crowd of 67,619 spectators.
A full-strength U.S. Men's National Team – which is set to play a series of World Cup qualifiers – lost 4-1 in the international friendly at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The U.S. had its moments in the second half of the game but Brazil's ball movement, smooth passing and uniform attacks blunted any attempt by the U.S. to upend the formidable Brazilians.
Brazil was powered by 20-year-old phenom Neymar who scored a penalty and had two assists.
After the game, even as he praised his team's efforts, U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann appeared troubled by his players' lack of a killer instinct.
"We need to get nastier, maybe [we're] a little bit too naive, maybe we don't want to hurt people," he said. "We have to step on their toes more, get them more frustrated."
Klinsmann, who stepped in as coach last July, was philosophical.
"From a performance point of view, I think we saw many good elements, many good things. I think the team reacted very well," he said during post-game comments. "They fought themselves back into the game. We had enough chances to score a second one and get back in the game."
Klinsmann said the team can learn much from the result.
"We proved to them that we can play with them. We have to improve still, absolutely," he said. "There are areas where we have to get closer to people. Have to push forward a little bit more, gotta be smarter playing out of the back."
"I think in the first 10-15 minutes we were looking too hectic but they found their way into the game in the middle of the first half – became better and better. For us, it's about how do we get closer to those teams that we play? You wanna play Italy, Brazil, France, we wanna play the big nations, you know. Out of those games we learn a lot, a tremendous amount and I think we got a lot out of this game tonight."
The U.S.'s loss snapped its five-game winning streak that extends back to last year.
The American team was outmatched by Brazil and the defense bears the brunt of the criticism for the way the game turned out. Defenders often played too deep to put any type of pressure on the Brazilians and lost track of the players they were supposed to be marking. The defense looked lost and confused and stood around, allowing Brazilian players to get behind them and set up goals.
For example, when Neymar took a corner and the ball floated across the goal, five American players stood in the six-yard box, with a single Brazilian player, Marcelo. Marcelo scored.
In the 10th minute, the referee whistled defender Oguchi Onyewu for handling the ball in the penalty area and Neymar put it away by wrong-footing Goalkeeper Tim Howard.
A Thiago Silva goal late in the first half placed Brazil in a commanding position but American forward Hercules Gomez [the Budweiser Man of the Match] provided the team's lone goal in the 45th minute.
The U.S. had its share of chances in the second half, including a shot that struck the crossbar, but Brazil was able to improve their record to 16-1-0 against the U.S. all-time with two goals in the second half by Marcelo and Alexandre Pato. Brazil has a 31-10 edge in scoring.
Members of the U.S. team rued missed chances.
"We have to filter out the bad, take in the good. Obviously, the 4-1 scoreline wasn't really indicative of the way the game went," said Gomez. "There were stretches of the game where we controlled the tempo and were getting after them. You know, they finished off their chances. That's really the difference ... you play Brazil, it's not an easy game. We're trying to learn from this, we're trying to get better and use it to our benefit. We have qualifiers coming up. It will help us."
The U.S. played Canada on Sunday, June 3 in Toronto, in the final game before commencement of World Cup qualifying games. On Friday, June 8, the U.S. squares off against Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, Fla.
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