USMNT friendly vs. Brazil represents important step in learning curve for team's young players

BOSTON – Irrespective of their recent struggles, it’s hard to look past Brazil as one of the most attractive fixtures for any national team.

Such is the weight of the history and star power that the Seleção carry with them wherever they travel, even as the program rebounds from hugely disappointing eliminations on home soil in the 2014 World Cup and then at the 2015 Copa América in Chile.

But despite the question marks surrounding their opponents on Tuesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2, UniMás, UDN), the United States are fully aware they won’t be in for an easy evening.

“Brazil is Brazil,” USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley told reporters before Monday’s training at Harvard University. “We can talk about the World Cup ending in a disappointing way for them last summer, we can talk about Copa América not having gone perfectly, but Brazil is Brazil, in terms of their reputation but also in terms of their quality, in terms of the number of players that they’re able to draw from.

“As always we have respect for them – respect and nothing more. Hopefully we’ll step on the field and look to see if we can make it a real game.”

For Bradley and a handful of other players, this will not be the first go-around against the five-time world champions – they’ve most notably faced off in a May 2012 friendly and in the 2009 Confederations Cup final. But for some of the newer faces on the USMNT, the game on Tuesday also represents another big step in their development as soccer players.

“Just believing that you can play against the best in the world and that you can do well against the best in the world – to build this kind of understanding and feeling is very, very important and you only get that if you play in the game,” US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters at Monday’s press conference. “If you don’t play then you don’t actually know, ‘Can I compete with these guys?’ So this learning curve means a lot. …

“I think these games help us for Gyasi [Zardes], for DeAndre Yedlin and for younger players. They come out of these games and, no matter if you win or lose, they come out of there and say, ‘Oh, actually, I think I can do it!’ Like when we came back from Europe.”

Zardes in particular has been having a notable summer, learning a new position on the wing and scoring his first international goal in exactly the kind of game Klinsmann was referencing – a June friendly at the Netherlands that ended in a dramatic 4-3 win for the United States

And as far as Zardes, who says he is increasingly comfortable playing out wide, is concerned, the opportunity is not only one for learning, but also to demonstrate how far he’s progressed in his quick rise to the US national team ranks.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase my talent against these guys and not only that, just to progress as a men’s national team player,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Midfielder Jermaine Jones, a 16-year veteran of professional soccer and one of the US group who faced Brazil in May 2012, offered a slightly different perspective in how to approach the games against the marquee international teams as a player.

“Of course they have the big names in there, but I like to always go into games and say, ‘I know them before, maybe they don’t know me. But after the game, I want them to know me, too,’” Jones told reporters. “… Maybe Neymar doesn’t know Zardes right now, but maybe he makes a good game and say, ‘Oh, this kid is a really good kid.’”