I have now watched the USMNT's 2-0 loss to Brazil twice. Once on Friday night from the pressbox, and once on Saturday morning on my TV. And honestly, there's just not a ton to say about a game in which Brazil got themselves an early lead and then never really got out of third gear. My colleague Andrew Wiebe provided a good breakdown HERE, and the player ratings are HERE, and anybody looking for grand lessons from this one on life, the universe and everything is probably going to be disappointed.
Yet it's worth digging in on a few things.
Let's start with the play – specifically the distribution – of John Brooks:
This is lovely stuff, and in line with what he's done so far early in the Bundesliga season. It's still Brooks, remember, who's the all-time most expensive US player.
Watch the above video again and you'll see, though, that he's not really being pressured at all – the telltale sign that this was a friendly. If it were in official competition Brazil would've smothered both Brooks and Matt Miazga, and that would've made the game very different.
That said, I'm not worried about beating Brazil in official competition right now. I'm worried about building a team that can beat Concacaf squads in official competition, which you'll probably recall the previous generation wasn't so great at. For the most part Concacaf teams don't press, instead inviting the US center backs forward, staying tight through the middle of the pitch and trying to encourage big switches. Which is exactly what Brooks showed an affinity for on Friday.
It was a really good performance from him.
In attack, decisions came too slowly and that allowed Brazil to close down lanes.
Already two instances of plodding, telegraphed decisions resulting in turnovers by the US team. Have to be cleaner, faster in possession. #USAvBRA— Susaeta (@_Susaeta) September 8, 2018
Brooks was superb, and Miazga was very good – you could argue he was even more impressive since he eschewed big switches for third-line passes up the gut, and was both quick and accurate with them. Wil Trapp and Tyler Adams both had their moments in distribution as well, though both mostly opted for "clean" rather than "game-breaking."
The rest of the team struggled. Passes came too slowly so they often went to the wrong foot, which killed momentum. Neither fullback was able to get forward in combination play because both wingers struggled with their recognition and with the lack of space Brazil allowed in the attacking half. Weston McKennie might be my favorite player in the entire pool, but he was sloppy on Friday. Bobby Wood put in an honest shift but that's about it, and none of the subs really changed any of the above.
This is, in all honesty, both fine and expected, and for the same reason: It's a young, experimental group playing together for the first time. Against the Brazilian "A" squad. lol if you thought this game would look different than it did.
Adams did everything on the night. He played kind of as a second forward for a time – as an advanced destroyer who existed to make distribution difficult for Brazil – and then for a little bit at right wing (no thanks!) and then finished up the game with 10 minutes as a No. 6.
The best attacking move of the night from the US came from his foot. From the sole of his foot.
Just a typical Friday night for Tyler Adams, skirting Neymar like nothing. pic.twitter.com/bpvp2IAgPL— Joseph Lowery (@joeInCleats) September 8, 2018
These little bits of trickery are popping up more and more in the kid's game, and making it harder and harder for me to keep my flag on "Yes but actually he's a right back!" hill. I still think Adams projects to be a world class right back, and I still wouldn't be surprised if whichever team buys him this January (**cough** Leipzig **cough**) sees it that way, too.
But he's a destructive defensive force in the center of the park – still and always the most valuable real estate in the game – and is much better at receiving the ball and doing stuff with it than he was even three months ago. He's been the best defensive midfielder in the league this year (all due respect to Diego Chara), and he's certainly looked better over the past month than McKennie, who is a starting central midfielder for a top four Bundesliga team.
I still think his ceiling as a right back is "Real Madrid" while his ceiling as a d-mid is "RB Leipzig." I just wish we could clone him.
Trapp's positioning was excellent on both sides of the ball, and he did his main job well in terms of keeping the game moving and committing zero dangerous turnovers. He also did a nice job of winning a few balls, and drawing a few fouls when pressure came.
But there was this one moment of old, bad defensive habits that cropped up:
I don't care that this was a dive. I care that Trapp was too slow to realize the danger, and not quick enough to get better positioning on Fabinho's surging run. This is an issue that's cropped up through the years with Trapp, who can simply get blown up by bigger/stronger/faster players. He's been much better in that regard over the past 12 months, and there's not much shame in Fabinho doing you dirty like that as long as he continues to internalize the lesson.
By the way: Fabinho's a natural defensive midfielder who was the man of the match while playing right back.
This is true:
I think I’ve found the word to counter your “creator” obsession. They are lacking a midfield “calmer.” Someone to take the ball in tough spots and give everyone a tough break. The creator and calmer are usuaully the same person, but the “calmer” part is more important.— Bobby Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) September 8, 2018
Nobody in USMNT history has been as good at this as Claudio Reyna. Even against the best, most frenetic teams, when the US ran out of ideas (which was often) they could give the ball to Reyna, trust him to put a foot on it, allow things to re-organize, and adjust the tempo of the game.
It's a skill that's not as valued in the modern game, which is both faster and more tactical than even 10 years ago, as it once was, and while McKennie has the natural technique to be this guy, he's not going to learn to do it in the fast and furious attritional wars of the Bundesliga.
So if it's going to happen, it'll have to happen by committee.
That's the next step for this US team, be it under Dave Sarachan or his permanent replacement. We've already seen promising defensive cohesion, and if nothing else I'm grateful to Sarachan for already showing more inclination toward building that than Jurgen Klinsmann did in six years. It is the most basic, fundamental building block for good soccer teams.
It takes more than reps to build that in possession and attack, though. It takes a system and it takes talent. Said talent is starting to bloom – we already know what Christian Pulisic is, and it turns out he's only the first of a bunch of young, hungry American attackers plying their trades throughout Europe. (Hopefully more MLS teams will take the hint and start realizing that they, too, can play Americans in those spots.)
What we don't know is what the system will be or who will be instituting it. And until we actually know that, we actually don't know much.
One More Thing
"Did you watch the World Cup?"— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 8, 2018
DeAndre Yedlin got Neymar jokes pic.twitter.com/CXEgp7CBNi
This moment was so perfect I might get a DeAndre Yedlin tattoo.