USMNT Report: Final Friendlies Before World Cup Qualifying Begins

With Qualifiers on the horizon, the USMNT played two very important matches with telling results
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, June 08, 2012

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team finished its round of friendlies leading up to World Cup Qualifiers this Friday. Following the USMNT’s 5-1 victory over Scotland, many U.S. fans were hoping for a repeat against one of the world’s best in Brazil and their neighbors to the north, Canada.

But many were left disappointed after both bouts.

Brazil match highlights: The U.S. lost to Brazil, 4-1, and tied Canada, 0-0. There were clear opportunities in both matches, but neither produced an uplifting result for the USMNT.

The Canarinho snapped the U.S.’s five-game winning streak, and got rocking pretty early. In the 12th minute, Neymar nailed a penalty kick – given as a result of a handball called on Oguchi Onyewu – to put the Brazilians up 1-0. Then, in the 26th minute, Thiago Silva scored the second goal for Brazil.

But before the official called for halftime, Herculez Gomez got one back for the US with a header from Fabian Johnson cross.

The second half, as the score suggests, was all Brazil. Marcelo scored at the 52nd minute off an assist from Neymar. Marcelo returned the favor 35 minutes later with an assist to Alexandre Pato, who clinched the game for the Brazilians.

Post-game reactions: Interestingly, and perhaps a bit controversially, US manager Jurgen Klinsmann made an assessment that the USMNT needs to play a little “nastier.”

"We need to get an edge, be more nastier," said Klinsmann. "Maybe we're a little bit still too naive. Maybe we don't want to hurt people. But that's what we've got to do. You've got to do that at the end of the day. So we've got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated and make a case with the referee maybe as well."

But there’s always a silver-lining. That’s the approach that Gomez took away from the Brazil loss, despite it snapping the streak and possibly deflating confidence.

“They don’t get any easier,” said Gomez in a postgame conference. “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’ve got qualifiers coming up and I think it’s going to help us.”

Landon Donovan, who didn’t end up on the scorer’s sheet in the Brazil match, said he felt the U.S. did well against the Brazilians, but a combination of sleepy defense and poor officiating helped decide the winner.

Gomez was a big part of the game with his goal, and thus Donovan gave him some credit.

“Herc’s so active and he gets in good spots,” said Donovan. “Every time we get the ball, he’s in front of the goal and he wants to score. He’s hungry. I thought he was very good tonight. He created a number of chances and maybe on another night he’d score a couple more.”

Canada match highlights: In the Canadian game, both sides had good chances. Yet, Canada and the U.S. ended in a 0-0 draw, with the USMNT heading into the WCQs later this week following two disappointing results.

Though many anticipated the USMNT would provide a similar offensive output as they did against Scotland, the team ended up playing a good amount of defense in the first half. Tim Howard was came up big several times for the U.S., stopping one of Dwayne De Rosario’s liners, as well as Tosaint Ricketts shot.

Terror nearly struck the entire USMNT faithful as Nik Ledgerwood struck the top left corner of the net following what appeared to be an Edgar Castillo giveaway. However, shortly after, the goal was called off due to a foul in 18-yard box.

The second half was a lot more open for the Americans, but it did little good as they couldn’t hit net or create many positive chances. Clarence Goodson nearly had a goal in stoppage time off a header, but it wasn’t enough to get past Lars Hirschfield.

Post-game reactions: “I thought it was good,” said Howard. “It's kind of the hump game, so maybe you expect a little bit of that. I thought tonight we played pretty well. We controlled most parts of the game. We were fortunate at the end when we got a little bit sloppy and almost paid the price.”

Still, Howard was quick to remind everyone that the US also had a potent offense.

“We went down to the other end and created quite a few chances ourselves,” said Howard. “It was good to get a clean sheet. All in all we want to come up here and try to win the game, but lots of positives to take out of it as well.” 

Defender Carlos Bocanegra had similar statements, claiming the Canada match was just like any other international game.

“We limited them with chances but any international match you're going to have to deal with a few things and I thought we dealt with them well,” said Bocanegra.

The road to now: Prior to the Brazil and Canada contests, the USMNT slaughtered Scotland, 5-1, in a game of debuts. Along with new jerseys, Terrence Boyd was made his senior national team debut start.

The win over Scotland showed how powerful the U.S. could be at times when its offense gets going. Landon Donovan was on with an early strike, as was Michael Bradley who rushed up and scored a beauty. Donovan went on to score two more goals before Jermaine Jones finished off the Scotsmen with a goal of his own.

How I see it: I actually expected the US to come out of these three matches with a win, loss and draw. It just didn’t happen the way I thought it would.

I figured Scotland would give somewhat of a fight, since they nearly beat Spain a few years back, and the US would draw them 1-1. Then, the US would be slain by Brazil, like 3-1, and then pancake Canada 4-0.

My original idea of how things would go would put US into the WCQ with confidence having recently beaten one of its CONCACAF foes. It was setting them up for a good run through the WCQs.

But now, the USMNT and its fans can only see this truth: the US is better than Scotland, worse than Brazil, on par with Canada.

Of course, like adjusting a price for inflation, the scores don’t tell the exact measurement of the U.S.’s skills. However, it’s still showing an inconsistency that’s been going on for quite a while. The US only seems to show up in really important matches or when it needs to make an impact.

What the US needs to do is gather some consistency, and maybe it’ll find it heading into the WCQs. Nothings for sure. Maybe Klinsmann has a trick up his sleeve.

And then, or course, there is the elephant in the room. Seeing Mexico derail Brazil 2-0 really puts a perspective on where the US is as opposed to our neighbors to the south. We’ve all noticed Mexico’s growth for the last few years, and we could tell at the 2010 World Cup that the Mexicans were going to be a force to deal with.

They’ll easily qualify. The U.S.? I’m not so sure. And if the Americans do qualify, it’ll be by the skin of their teeth. The lackadaisical and boring side that faced Canada left much to be desired. They were not a team that I can picture steamrolling through the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers and make it to the World Cup Finals in Brazil.

Maybe they won’t, and maybe they shouldn’t. Suppose they don’t make the World Cup Finals. Suppose the USMNT falls to the wayside and doesn’t qualify.

Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

From the stands: The Brazil match had 67,619 packed into FedEx Field, which is third highest ranking for a soccer match in the Washington, D.C., area. It’s also the highest attendance for a USMNT match in the nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, the U.S. vs. Canada match at BMO Field in Toronto drew 15,247. This low attendance comes in spite of it being the 100-year celebration of the Canadian Soccer Association.

Up next: It is now finally time to see what Klinsmann’s crew can do in competitive matches. Next up for the UMSNT will be Friday’s game against Antigua and Barbuda, at 7 p.m. EST from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN, ESPN3.com, and Galavision.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
Bayern Munich
SN managing editor, award-winning journalist and recent college grad, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's been published by the Boston Globe and has experience with film production and novel writing.
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