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Jun 18, 2009

U.S. team taught a painful lesson by Brazil

It has been said that a bad rehearsal leads to a good performance. The U.S. men's national team can only hope that is the case, as its 3-0 loss to Brazil all but eliminated it from the Confederations Cup and raised even more doubts about the team's chances at the World Cup next summer.

Certainly, there is no disgrace in losing to the Brazilians. They remain one of the premier national teams in the world, with top-class players all over the field. But the self-inflicted nature of the defeat makes it clear that the U.S. team is regressing before our eyes.

As has been its habit lately, the U.S. was victimized by an early goal, with Felipe Melo's header from a Maicon free kick putting Brazil up in the seventh minute. Given that the U.S. fell behind after two minutes against Costa Rica and five minutes against Honduras, a cynic might chalk up Thursday's effort as an improvement, but U.S. manager Bob Bradley likely won't find the least bit of humor in his team's early struggles.

Of greater concern was the mind-boggling inability of the U.S. to make simple traps and passes while under little to no pressure. DaMarcus Beasley's failure to control a simple short corner kick from Landon Donovan allowed Brazil to counter and score its second goal through Robinho in the 20th minute.

On-the-field discipline remains an issue as well, with Sacha Kljestan's 57th-minute red card forcing the U.S. to play short-handed. Although Ricardo Clark's ejection against Italy was clearly a case of overzealous refereeing, there can't be too many complaints about Kljestan's dismissal for a reckless challenge on Ramires. It made Maicon's 62nd-minute goal about as inevitable as the sun rising in the east. All told, the U.S. has played exactly half of its 180 minutes so far at the Confederations Cup with 10 men.

That the U.S. enjoyed a late revival, with both Benny Feilhaber and Conor Casey hitting the bar, only serves to gloss over what was a disappointing performance. And let's face it, if the Americans are to reach their avowed goal of progressing to the second round in 2010, they are going to have to raise their game considerably, no matter how talented the opposition.

Unfortunately, this team has about as much attacking personality at the moment as a HAL 9000 computer. (Come to think of it, the HAL 9000 did show a bit more killer instinct than the U.S. offense. Apologies, HAL.) Regardless, it's difficult to see at present just how the Americans can trouble even decent teams, never mind the Italys and the Brazils of the world.

Was the news all bad? No. Jay DeMerit solidified his spot as Bradley's first option after Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra, as he put out plenty of fires. He might even have planted a seed in Bradley's head that he should start. Onyewu, although not quite as sharp as he was against Italy, also didn't hurt himself with his performance against Brazil. Other than that, there were few other standout performances.

So where does Bradley go from here? He can start by giving out playing time based on performance rather than reputation. Granted, injuries and the tight turnaround between games meant he had to use his bench, but surely there are better options than Beasley, who for several months now has done little to warrant being given any more minutes. The same goes for Kljestan, who just looks completely devoid of confidence at the moment.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. Egypt
Sunday
Rustenburg, South Africa
2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360

With the Americans likely to be playing only for pride come Sunday against Egypt, it's time for Bradley to get a better sense of what Feilhaber and Jose Francisco Torres are capable of. Although Torres struggled defensively in a central role against Costa Rica, a spot on the left flank seems better suited to his abilities. And Feilhaber seems to be the only U.S. attacker capable of the unexpected at the moment.

That way, perhaps the remainder of the Americans' dress rehearsal will instill some hope of better things to come.

Player ratings: (scale of 1-10)

GK, Tim Howard, 6: Could have been a bit quicker to come out on Brazil's second goal, but more blame can be apportioned elsewhere. Still saved his team's bacon several times, including a stellar second-half save from Kaka.

D, Jonathan Bornstein, 4.5: Maicon was a handful on Bornstein's side, but the U.S. defender didn't help himself, conceding too many free kicks and delivering some poor touches. He did recover in the second half, however.

Next Level Analysis
U.S. Brazil
Attacking third entries 17 46
Goal-scoring chances 4 12
Corner kicks 3 6
Effective crosses 1 5

D, Oguchi Onyewu, 6: Wasn't quite as sharp with his clearances and passing as he was against Italy, but still a decent performance. He's one of the few players whose stock has gone up.

D, Jay DeMerit, 7: A performance to build on; provided good cover out wide and delivered several solid tackles.

D, Jonathan Spector, 4.5: Was badly outmuscled on Felipe Melo's goal, and although he did what he could to get into the attack, his service from out wide usually was lacking. That said, he did well to tee up Feilhaber late.

M, DaMarcus Beasley, 2: Had an absolute shocker. A simple pass should not run under the foot of a professional, which is exactly what sparked Brazil's second goal. His ball-watching on defense didn't help, either. Time to make him earn his spot back with some solid play for his club.

M, Michael Bradley, 5: Didn't really have much of an impact, although this was largely due to American impatience in attack. Did deliver some telling passes when he had the chance.

M, Sacha Kljestan, 2: Was far too hurried when he got the ball and didn't contribute much defensively. His touch and overall field awareness were lacking as well, and his red card capped off a miserable night.

M, Clint Dempsey, 5: Showed a bit more initiative than against Italy but was largely ineffective.

F, Landon Donovan, 6: Once again, Donovan made some darting runs, but he seems a bit too eager to get rid of the ball instead of forcing more players to commit to him. A clever back heel to Spector helped set up Feilhaber late.

F, Jozy Altidore, 4: Needs to hold the ball up better, plain and simple.

Substitutes

F, Conor Casey, 5: Was involved in one quick combination with Altidore and had a header off the bar. Needs to help out defensively a bit more, but I'd still like to see him get more minutes when the team is at even strength.

M, Benny Feilhaber, 6: His shot that rattled the bar was one of the few bright spots. He simply must be on the field against Egypt.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

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