CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Thursday, May 31, 2012
In the most highly anticipated U.S. National Team game of the year, the United States hosted Brazil at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
It was good weather and a spectacular crowd of over 65,000 that turned out to watch the game, and while the result may have disappointed a good portion, everyone came away having viewed a high quality game.
After Herculez Gomez made his first appearance for the National Team since 2010 against Scotland on Saturday, anticipation was building in the subsequent games that he could get a start against Brazil, and Jurgen Klinsmann did not disappoint the rumor mill. As the lone striker, Gomez spearheaded an attack that had Jose Torres, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, and Jermaine Jones in the midfield. Anchoring the defensive end were Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, and Fabian Johnson.
The game started with an even pace as the teams tested the waters against each other, but the Brazilians would not hold back for long as they pressed the attack in the 11th minute down the left side of the field, with Leandro moving inside to fire a shot from about five yards outside of the box. The ball went straight into Onyewu who leaped to block it, with the ball hitting his arm. The referee awarded a penalty kick despite the argument that the ball played the hand, not the other way around. While arguably a fair call, it was also arguably a wrong call, and will surely be discussed to great lengths in the future.
Neymar stepped forward to take the penalty kick, and put it low and to the right side of the goal after forcing Tim Howard to guess wrong, diving in the opposite direction. The easy completion put Brazil into the lead and seemed to take the fight out of the Americans. A long period of unsettled play and nervous ball handling among the U.S. players began, and Brazil sensed the weakness and began to exploit it. Applying high pressure across the defense and stifling the midfield, the game completely shifted in favor of the Brazilians.
The second goal came in the 26th minute off of a corner kick. Thiago Silva shook free from Jermaine Jones deep inside the box and got onto the end of a well placed cross from Neymar to head it past Howard. After conceding the second goal, the U.S. almost seemed to pick up a little bit and start to push forward more.
This proved to be a good tactic in the 45th minute when Bradley played a perfect through ball into the box for an unrushing Johnson, who placed the ball perfectly across to the middle of the goal. The ball took a minor deflection, putting it in the air and straight to the head of Gomez, who scored for the U.S. for the first time since against Australia prior to the 2010 World Cup.
With the U.S. back in the game, the half ended, but did not seem to stop the momentum that the U.S. had building. With the onset of the second half, Klinsmann appeared to have instructed his players to push the attack, noticing weaknesses in the Brazilian back line. The more open flow of the game produced a more visually appealing product as well as produced more chances for both sides, but most notably the Americans as several opportunities came close, but not quite to fruition.
In the 52nd minute, Real Madrid's Marcelo pushed high into the offense, and sneaked into the box unobserved, getting on the end of an inch perfect Neymar pass from the touchline. The ball found Marcelo all alone in the middle of the box and he struck it without doubt into the side of the goal, leaving Howard helpless.
About 10 minutes later the U.S. would knock on the door, as a fantastic feint by Johnson near the left side of the box shook him completely free from his defender, allowing him to loft the ball across the box to Gomez who was waiting at the far post. Gomez had to take a step backward which took most of the power out of his header, but the ball beat goalkeeper Rafael and appeared to be heading in. The freshly subbed on Clint Dempsey leaped to the ball to finish the job, but was somehow beat to the punch by Romulo who made a last moment lunge to clear the ball over the goal.
In the 77th minute, Dempsey would find Gomez with a spectacular chip into space, leading the Santos Laguna striker into the box. Gomez's first touch with his chest sent him slightly wide, but he struck a vicious shot across his body that Rafael did well to save, but the rebound fell to the feet of Terrence Boyd, making his third appearance for the National Team as he came on for Edu, but Boyd's low volley was saved by instinct alone from Rafael's feet as he dived back into position.
Being down by two goals could have set the Americans back on their heels, but they pressed the attack, looking for a goal that would get them back into the game. It almost came in the 85th minute when a Donovan free kick whipped into the box, finding Bradley's head. The General powered a header onto the goal that was again spectacularly saved by Rafael, who deflected it over the bar and out for a corner kick.
On the ensuing corner kick, the ball came into the box and found Onyewu who showed some of his old leaping prowess by getting a head over everyone else and onto the ball, drilling the ball off the cross bar.
It seemed to be one of those nights where everything and the kitchen sink could not find the back of the net, despite the tremendous pressure and the growing American confidence.
The dagger came in the 87th minute as a Brazilian attack up field developed on the left flank, with Marcelo controlling the ball and finding Pato sneaking behind the defense on the right side of the box. Marcelo's lofted pass was text book, and was taken down by Pato and then cleanly finished to the far post. While the American defenders screamed for offsides, replays showed that Onyewu was a half step late with the offsides trap, keeping Pato onside.
The game would end after three minutes of stoppage time, making it 14 years since the U.S. has last beaten Brazil, a stretch of nine games.
Throughout the game, Fabian Johnson was a continuous threat on the left flank, and the work rate of Gomez was second to none. Even 90 minutes into the game, Herculez Gomez continued to do the job of the exhausted midfield, tracking box to box to attack and defend, and was key in stopping a late Brazilian buildup at the top of the box that could have resulted in a fifth goal.
Jose Torres earned an ambiguous yellow card in the 13th minute for what appeared to be dissent, while Jermaine Jones earned a yellow card in the 57th minute for a hard tackle on Neymar, who could not dance away from the German-American destroyer's slide tackle.
The loss was the first for the U.S. this year, as their four game win streak came to an end. The next game will be in Toronto at BMO Field on Sunday against Canada, as the final tune up for World Cup Qualifying that begins around the corner.