National Writer: Charles Boehm

Five simmering questions for USMNT vs. Brazil


“Really poor.”

“Unacceptable, disappointing … casual.”

“A lack of respect for our opponent [and] the game of soccer.”

Criticism of the US men’s national team’s performance in Saturday’s 5-1 friendly loss to Colombia has been harsh – and the above is just a sample of what coach Gregg Berhalter and his players said about it themselves, let alone the groundswell of negativity among fans and pundits.

That’s dialed up the intensity significantly around Wednesday’s meeting with Brazil at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (7 pm ET | TNT, Telemundo), the USMNT’s final warmup match before their Copa América campaign kicks off against Bolivia later this month.

It’s still a friendly, and cold, hard history suggests the Yanks are unlikely to dig out a positive result, considering the program’s all-time record against the five-time World Cup winners is 1W-18L-0D. But Wednesday has nevertheless become a big moment for Berhalter & Co.

Here are some questions to ponder in the leadup to this one, which is on track to set a new soccer attendance record for the state of Florida.

Could Berhalter really be coaching for his job?

Berhalter said on Tuesday he’s not “the right person to answer that question,” a nod to the organizational structure that puts sporting director Matt Crocker at the center of any such decision. And the short answer probably remains ‘no,’ given U.S. Soccer’s traditional preference for stability in the national team coaching positions.

Still, the nature of Saturday’s drubbing has dialed up the debate yet again, not even a year on from the former Columbus Crew boss signing a new contract that runs through the 2026 World Cup year. Long simmering in certain quarters of the fanbase, discontent has flamed up dramatically over the past few days. As talented as the current generation of Yanks are, they’ve still yet to book a signature win over a top-tier opponent, the sort of milestone which builds belief that similar results can be obtained in the World Cup itself.

“The reality is, it is a friendly game. We are preparing for a tournament; we want to gain information both on Brazil and our own players,” Berhalter said. “So we have to be brave and we have to continue with our plan. Obviously, a lot of pressure from the outside after a 5-1 defeat at home.”

Does the USMNT’s approach need to change against elite opponents?

With no qualification process for the three ‘26 hosting nations, this summer’s Copa is effectively their only litmus test in competitive scenarios against elite adversaries, which has almost everyone feeling some combination of expectation and edginess.

For USMNT watchers, the ease with which Colombia baited the Yanks into errors, then ruthlessly exploited them set alarm bells ringing about Berhalter’s dogged commitment to setting a high line, playing out of the back and other hallmarks of his proactive, possession-centric game model.

Should they be sitting deeper, structuring more defensive help and emphasizing set pieces and transition play against more talented opponents? In that sense, it’s not a bad time to play Brazil, because the Seleção will probably dominate the ball and attack relentlessly. Berhalter adapted along these lines to secure big wins over Mexico in the past; maybe he’ll dust off those concepts now.

Is it Timmy Tillman time?

As one of the few in the current camp without much of a USMNT résumé, the LAFC standout seems to be on a trial of sorts; the roster has 27 players on it and Copa América grants 26 slots for each squad.

To get the fullest possible evaluation, the coaching staff would ideally give him some match time to see how he measures up in that setting. And considering:

  • Josh Sargent’s injury issues – the St. Louis-born striker is fighting through a foot injury…
  • … and Saturday’s many subpar displays, including in central midfield, the door may have opened a bit further for Tillman to get minutes.

He’s got the engine to harry and harass Brazil’s engine room operators, and the requisite quality on the ball to do something with it when he wins it back. Then there’s the helpful chemistry he has with his brother Malik, who tends to occupy comparable areas on the pitch.

“When you look at the numbers, of course he has a shot,” said Berhalter of the elder Tillman last week. “We like what he did in the January camp. We think he's a very smart soccer player, very good soccer player. He's done well for LAFC this season, and he absolutely has an opportunity to make this roster.”

Are changes needed in defense?

To some, it’s simple math: When you leak five goals, some of them directly off defensive gaffes, you try something new on the back line. While Berhalter’s doggedly calm temperament makes him an unlikely candidate for sweeping lineup changes, it’s not hard to make a case for the insertion of someone like Miles Robinson into the XI.

The FC Cincinnati man is one of the USMNT’s top one-v-one defenders, is a constant aerial threat on set pieces and has been steady and solid for both club and country since returning from the Achilles injury that crushed his 2022 World Cup dream.

The likes of Mark McKenzie and Shaq Moore also have a shout here. That said, whoever is in the back four (we’re assuming Berhalter doesn’t throw a curve with the back-three experiment he’s hinted at over the past months) will benefit greatly if and when linchpin defensive midfielder Tyler Adams, who has battled injuries for the better part of the past two years, is given a measured runout of no more than 45 minutes on Wednesday.

Might this group actually be… overrated?

It might turn out to be the hottest of hot-button topics around the program.

After more than half a decade of ‘golden generation’ talk around the core group headlined by Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna, that exciting crop of future prospects are now unquestionably the present. Many of them have reached massive European clubs, some with huge transfer fees and valuations attached. They’ve now been together on the national team for a full cycle and then some. The long-awaited, much-anticipated home World Cup is just two years away.

It’s time to translate all that potential into top-tier end product, not only with technical virtuosity, but with a ferocity and commitment to match that of their less-gifted USMNT forbears.

“At the end of the day, every single player on our team, myself included, needs to be ready to perform at a certain level, certain intensity,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner after the Colombia humbling. “And we didn't have that today and that's the disappointing part for us. And I imagine for the fans as well.”