What a heartbreaking way to lose. The US went up 2-0 before the half before surrendering three second half goals to a powerful Brazilian team that features several of the world’s most expensive players. In the first half the US was clinical, finishing its first two shots on goal on excellent passing sequences and movements. The first goal came on a Spector to Dempsey combination, the same that was responsible for the third goal against Egypt. The second goal was very similar to the second goal the US surrendered to Brazil in their group match. The US progressed 90 yards at full speed with three passes–Ricardo Clark to Landon Donovan, Donovan to Davies, Davies back to Donovan–before Donovan cut inside the box and buried a low left-footed shot into the corner. The first international trophy was within our grasp. The US was playing excellent, smart soccer: defending in blocks with conviction and then moving forward purposefully after it won possession.
The second half began as poorly as it could have with Brazil picking up a goal inside a minute. Fabiano turned on Jay DeMerit and somewhat luckily slotted a shot between his legs that US goalkeeper Tim Howard presumably saw late; the ball trickled into the corner of the net and the Brazilians never looked back. Wave after wave of attack came at the Americans. Watching the match, I had a sense of impending doom battling a hopeful belief that we’d hold on. Unfortunately the second goal came 20 minutes later after Kaka beat Jonathan Spector to the end line and hit a cross that was deflected past Carlos Bocanegra into the path of Fabiano. He put the initial shot off the crossbar before finishing to tie the match. The clincher came 10 minutes later on a Lucio header off a corner. Certainly the most preventable of the goals, Clint Dempsey lost his mark and Lucio made no mistake.
With the US under siege and Jozy Altidore obviously fatigued I was pleading with Bob Bradley to make a substitution around the 60th minute. The substitutes did not come until after the second Brazil goal and they were the wrong substitutes. Sacha Kljestan came in and played as poorly as he did in the first match against Brazil. Jonathan Bornstein did well but he is not the kind of player that is going to help maintain possession and slow down the game. The two players who have that capability, Jose Torres and Freddy Adu, have been left on the bench all tournament. Bradley loves to talk about what happens ‘inside’ versus ‘outside’; it is hard for me to imagine a scenario in which those two are so poor ‘inside’ when they’ve proven their worth on the ‘outside’ with performances in less meaningful games. Bradley obviously is willing to rely on younger players (e.g. Altidore) so I don’t know what he sees that we don’t. For me the half-time substitution would have been Torres for Altidore with Dempsey pushing forward. That said, Bradley’s successes in the Gold Cup and now here at the Confederations Cup earn him some capital that he can spend with player selection, which is very difficult to grant when players like DaMarcus Beasley and Conor Casey see the field and Torres and Adu do not. Also, not to beat a dead horse, but if referee Jorge Lorrionda from the Spain match did not make the hideous decision to eject Michael Bradley, Bob Bradley would not have been in the position of not trusting his substitutes. Bradley surely would have been influential in slowing down the Brazilians and then Benny Feilhaber would have been available as a substitute.
I am nothing but proud of the performances of the team, collectively and individually. Facing the adversity of unjust red cards and increased scrutiny from American media and fans, the team rallied and put together three spectacular performances that propelled it to a historic finish in a major international tournament.
What did we learn?
- Jay DeMerit is a stud and belongs on the field.
- Ditto Jonathan Spector.
- Our best option at left back right now is Carlos Bocanegra.
- Many of our most talented players are very young. Our starting forwards combined age is 42 (Altidore-19, Davies-23). Michael Bradley is 21. Jonathan Spector is 23.
- Though somewhat stubborn, Bob Bradley will adjust (e.g. Beasley was removed at half and never re-inserted after the worst of a string of poor performances.)
- Bob Bradley doesn’t trust Freddy Adu, Jose Torres, Marvell Wynne or Heath Pearce.
- Jozy Altidore is dangerous, but still somewhat raw and his fitness or work rate needs to improve.
- Charlie Davies is a modern forward. The physical abilities are there; his decisions need to improve.
- Clint Dempsey is a clutch scorer.
- Landon Donovan can no longer be accused of not showing up for big games.
- Michael Bradley is a key player, perhaps our most important.
I am encouraged and excited by these developments. With the Gold Cup starting this weekend, we’ll have another opportunity to watch a fresh batch of players. Though there will be a large turnover I hope the momentum continues and we continue our regional dominance. As always I’ll be watching.