PRETORIA, South Africa -- Tuesday brought a gray and cloudy afternoon at Pilditch Stadium, where U.S. coach Bob Bradley put players who did not see extended action Monday against Italy through a light training session.
The day after a loss replete with unusual circumstances -- including a controversial 33rd-minute red card to American midfielder Ricardo Clark -- the mood of the team seemed to match the somber weather. After playing well for the first half, and taking the lead, the defeat was a bitter result to swallow.
"Everyone was a bit disappointed afterwards," said defender Carlos Bocanegra, who returned to training after sitting out Monday's game with a lingering hamstring injury. "It was a bit frustrating for everyone. Whether it's a red card or not, we're going down and we have to play them with 10 men.
"After that we got the goal, and that was a game we thought we could have won. To come out of there with a 3-1 loss, we don't think that's a fair score at the end of the day."
Unfair though it might be, the Americans now find themselves with their backs against the wall, obligated to get at least one point from Thursday's match against perennial power Brazil (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com) if they want to retain any hope of advancing in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Bradley said dealing with high-pressure situations like this one is part of the learning experience the team hoped to take out of this tournament.
"When you come to the Confederations Cup, it is similar to the World Cup in that the first round is three games," Bradley said after practice. "The mentality of the group must be strong, if you don't play as well as you want in the first game, or if you lose, to still understand that there are two more games to find a way to advance."
The Americans are hoping for the return of Bocanegra, who said he will train at full speed Wednesday before a decision is made on his availability. Bradley will be without Clark, who is suspended after his red card.
With only two days between games, the team will need to forget the Italy match as soon as possible and concentrate on the upcoming game against the Selecao.
"Obviously the game didn't go the way we wanted, but we have another game to look forward to," veteran DaMarcus Beasley said. "If it were just one game and out, it would be harder. But we are going to play Brazil, one of the three best teams in the world, and we can look forward to that."
The challenge of playing Brazil now seems as great as ever. Over the past few years, the five-time World Cup champions had been experiencing what some considered a dip in their usually extraordinary form, although they still managed to win the 2007 Copa America final over archrival Argentina to secure their place in the Confederations Cup. Brazil coach Dunga, a veteran of three World Cups, has been roundly criticized in Brazil for instilling a more defensive orientation in the normally free-attacking South Americans.
But Brazil comes into the U.S. match having struck a vein of attacking form almost as rich as Kaka, the linchpin of its attack, who recently commanded a record $92 million transfer fee to move from AC Milan to Real Madrid. Earlier this month, the Brazilians surged to the top of the South American World Cup qualifying table with two resounding victories, including a 4-0 thrashing of Uruguay in Montevideo. After Brazil scored four more in its opening match against Egypt, the Americans realize that they will have their hands full Thursday.
"They're great at the way they create opportunities going forward," Bradley said. "You have to have a good understanding collectively in terms of how you defend, and at the same time you have to put plays together offensively and attack them. So it's always a hard game, but one we need and one we're looking forward to."
Bradley said it will be particularly challenging to keep track of Brazilian attackers Robinho and Kaka, who are given a great deal of freedom to roam the attacking third. Kaka has scored three goals for his country in the past three matches: the two qualifiers and the opener against Egypt.
However, Brazil can hardly be called one- or even two-dimensional, with six players having netted over those past three matches. Bradley explained that the challenge of playing against all that talent, added to the history of the Selecao, motivates his players to face Brazil.
"One of the great challenges for any player is to play against Brazil, with the talent that they possess, and with their history," Bradley said. "But I know that all the players that have played for the United States national team have always been motivated by the opportunity to play Brazil."
Despite scoring four goals in their opening match of the Confederations Cup, the Brazilians got a scare against African champion Egypt. After going up by two goals early, Dunga's team saw Egypt fight back and needed an extra time penalty from Kaka to seal its 4-3 win.
"Maybe Brazil took them a little easy," said Beasley of the Brazilian approach to the Egypt match, adding that it will be difficult for the Americans to surprise them a second time. "They bring a lot of guys forward, so obviously we have got to be smart and stay compact and defend well. That's the way you've got to win against Brazil. If we can do that I think we'll get our chances, and hopefully we can stick a few in the net."
If the Americans cannot find a way to do that, they face quick elimination from the Confederations Cup. The team feels it can challenge Brazil if it can execute Coach Bradley's game plan. The first step in that plan is to forget what happened against Italy.
Brent Latham covers U.S. Soccer for ESPNsoccernet. Based in Dakar, Senegal, he also covers West Africa for Voice of America radio and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|U.S. men's schedule
|U.S. vs. Brazil
Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa
9:55 a.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
U.S. vs. Egypt
Rustenburg, South Africa
2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360