Superiority evident, Brazil still is tested in defeating Americans.
By Robert Wagman
CHICAGO (Sunday, September 9, 2007) -- Brazil produced a determined effort and defeated the United States men 4-2 this afternoon in a decision that was anything but easy. Before 43,543 at Soldier Field, none of Brazil's goals came from the run of play, coming from an own goal, corner kick, free kick and late penalty kick.
Brazil, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, played quite physically from the start, a new look under new coach and former defensive standout Dunga. More physical than teams from the past, the Brazilians still played with the flair and technical brilliance that are uniquely theirs.
Though there is probably not one American player who could start, or even make, the Brazil squad -- except possibly for goalkeeper Tim Howard -- the U.S. battled throughout and actually led for 12 minutes of the first half, erased a deficit in the second and was tied with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.
That's when Ronaldinho delivered the decisive blow, a free kick from two yards above the top right of the box through a crowded wall and into the lower left corner of the net for a 3-2 lead. Ronaldinho had earned the free kick by pushing a ball into the right side of the box before being knocked down by U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra as he chased it. Bocanegra hotly disputed the call.
The U.S. might have given up after Lúcio put away Ronaldinho's corner kick for a 2-1 advantage in the 53rd minute, but the Americans fought back and pulled even with a nice combination. Striker Landon Donovan, who always plays like a midfielder, looped a pass to overlapping defender Steve Cherundolo in the right side of the box, Midfielder Clint Dempsey, 10 yards from the right post, took a pass and laced a hard roller with his first touch just inside the far post.
Unfortunately for the U.S., the 2-2 tie only lasted two minutes and the Brazilians iced their hard-fought decision with Elano's penalty kick in stoppage time.
"We were pleased with our performance, but not satisfied with the result," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We are continuing to make progress as a team and I felt like over 90 minutes we did a much more solid job tonight. When you play against the best teams and the best players, the ability to keep raising your level to make all the plays is what makes the difference. The package is good, but it has to keep getting better."
For much of the first half, the U.S. was back on its heels as Brazil tried to break through using short passing plays and pure pace. But against the run of play, the U.S. was able to counter and push forward with numbers. This led to Donovan's left-side corner kick that was converted by an advancing Carlos Bocanegra with his chest into the right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute.
The goal clearly annoyed the Brazilians who began to push forward with renewed energy. In the 33rd, a complex set of passes -- nine players touched it - set up Kaká. HIs point-blank blast was stopped by Howard, who could only watch in despair as the rebound caromed into retreating U.S. center-back Oguchi Onyewu and then shot into the net for a 1-1 tie.
Howard showed considerable courage, remaining in the game after dislocating his left ring finger by hitting his hand on the crossbar in his unsuccessful attempt to deny Lucio's equalizer in the 53rd minute. After several minutes of agony, the finger was popped back into place with an MRI exam scheduled for after the match.
Bradley wanted his players to ignore the marquee names of their opponents and for the most part the Americans rose to his challenge, though ultimately done in by better players. The U.S. did not retreat into a defensive shell, pushed forward at times and scored a couple of goals, pushing Brazil until the end.
"The way you improve, as a team or as a player, is by playing against teams and players better then you," Bradley said before the match. "That's what we are doing against Brazil. With all their players in, they are the best in the world. This match will help us get closer to where we want to be as a team."
The U.S. defense had a few lapses, but generally held up well against the speed and the physicality of Brazil. The midfield was overmatched and the forwards did as well as could be expected while receiving little service.
Bradley opened with Donovan wide on the right and DaMarcus Beasley wide left in an effort to stretch the Brazilian defense. But Donovan hung back and did not contribute much to the attack. In the second half, especially after making some substitutions, Beasley was moved to the ride side and Donovan into the middle with the U.S. looking more dangerous after that.
"I don't think the final score really reflected the match today," U.S. striker Josh Wolff said. "We were better than that. I wish the final score would have been closer, but sometimes that's what you get in soccer."
Bradley made clear that his choice of players for this match was very much influenced by the fact that Major League Soccer had a full schedule this weekend. For instance, that precluded him from calling in either Jonathan Bornstein or Frankie Hejduk and why he had Heath Pearce at left back.
On a beautiful day, the playing conditions were dreadful with the Soldier Field grass worn out from both National Football League and college football action.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Gave up four goals, but played a terrific match. Made a number of key saves. Could really not be blamed for any of the goals and played for most of the second half with a painful finger.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: Was the best U.S. player, handling Brazil's speedy attackers while managing to get into the offense. His pass setup Dempsey's second-half equalizer.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 5: Was responsible for the own goal that erased an early U.S. lead and also lost his mark on Brazil's second striker off a corner kick. He also had other rough patches but, conversely, was able to physically match the large strikers he was facing. A uneven performance.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra -- 5: Another back-liner with an uneven performance. Scored a goal and generally held up well against a lot of pace that was thrown at him, but he made key mistakes that cost the U.S. Considering the caliber of the opponent, he was probably more good than bad.
Defender Heath Pearce - 4.5: Seemed overmatched early. Was easily pulled out of position. Had his moments, but they were few and far between. Clearly a work in progress.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 4: Must learn to stop playing defense with his hands. Gave up a critical penalty kick and his play generally was uneven.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 5: Started off well, but then was forced into playing a lot of defense as Brazil pushed forward. He too seemed overmatched at key times.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 5: Playing wide right in the first half, contributed little. Did somewhat better in the second half, but considering how much the U.S. depends on him, did nothing that really stood out.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: It was interesting to see him play against players who were even faster than he is. Had a few opportunities, but did not do much offensively. Contributed on defense and in the middle.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: Scored a pretty goal and worked hard, but received little service, except for a beautiful pass from Cherundolo on his goal. Mostly, what he did he did on his own, but he has made a statement he is in the lineup to stay.
Forward Josh Wolff - 5.5: Played very hard and as the game wore on showed better. Like Dempsey got little service. He must learn to work better with this set of teammates.
Midfielder Bobby Convey (70th minute for Feilhaber) - 4: At times he was dreadful, but he also did some wonderful things. He flinched as the last man in the wall and the ball sailed past his ear and into the goal on Ronaldinho's winner, but he made some wonderful defensive plays and almost set up a late U.S. goal. The negatives, however, outweigh the good by a slight amount.
Forward Eddie Johnson (70th minute for Wolff) - 4: Just seemed out of his element from the moment he entered. Made both mental and physical errors. With performances like this, he remains an undependable asset despite his considerable talent.
Midfielder Davy Arnaud (86th minute for Pearce) - 5.5: In his first international appearance, he actually had some very positive moments and on two occasions ran down speedy opponents from behind, making clean tackles. Might be worthy of a longer look.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Steve Cherundolo.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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