EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.– Eleven minutes into Friday night’s clash with Brazil, the U.S. Men’s National Team was torched by a world-class effort from Douglas Costa and Roberto Firmino.
A team whose starting XI had an average age of 23 years and 117 days could have wilted and gone on to lose to the Selecao by four or five goals.
Instead, the USMNT players rallied around each other and even tried to take the game to Brazil in spurts, especially in the second half.
“I think in the first 15 minutes we were a little shaky,” USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie said. “We had a couple bad passes and turnovers and we were trying to get into the game. After 30 minutes or so, i think we found a better game plan and we found a way to approach the game better and I think we found a way to be more confident on the ball and realize we have nothing to lose. We can play against teams like this, and we showed it against France.”
The fight displayed by the young group forced Brazil to fight for every opportunity in the 2-0 defeat at MetLife Stadium.
“Overall I thought the first half was a little nervy,” USMNT interim head coach Dave Sarachan said. “I thought the second half we had better moments of using the ball better. I thought our coordination of trying to step out wasn’t well in the first half. We got pulled apart a little bit. I thought the second half was improved.”
“Overall, this was a great game for us to play,” Sarachan said. “I think these types of games when you’re playing a team like Brazil, who is arguably as good as any team on the planet, it just challenges you in ways it will improve this group moving forward.”
Three years ago, when the USMNT last played Brazil at Gillette Stadium, the result of an early opener from the Selecao was an early substitution of Alejandro Bedoya, who was lined up in an unfamiliar role, and one of the first signs of self-implosion in the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
Friday’s fight by no means convinced American fans that the ugly 2018 World Cup cycle will be quickly forgotten, but it did shine a light on the intangibles some of the young players already have built up.
Take left back Antonee Robinson for example. The on-loan Wigan Athletic player took a wrong route to defending Douglas Costa in the buildup to Brazil’s 11th-minute opener.
“The first goal it was well executed,” Sarachan said. “I think we were a little late getting out to Douglas Costa and Matt may have misread the run. It was a situation where you get punished.”
Instead of putting his head down and getting beaten play after play, the 21-year-old showed some resiliency and produced a few solid defensive plays. Robinson’s performance won’t be judged as solid over 90 minutes, but he showed some little things throughout the night that resemble the character of the young core.
It’s too early to compare this young group to any past USMNT sides, and a fair comparison won’t be drawn until the end of the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup at least, but you couldn’t help but notice the fight and heart of the team, two things that were the backbone of the American playing style before the collapse in Couva.
As Weston McKennie, Timothy Weah and a few others talked postgame, there was no aura of complete failure, but one of quiet confidence that Friday’s game and the five upcoming fall friendlies will further build the emotional and mental backbone of this group.
On the surface, you can take Friday’s game as a loss to a world power in which the USMNT only put two of its 11 shots on target.
But when you dig a bit deeper and look into the 2-0 scoreline with perspective, you have to be a little bit impressed that the team with more potential than star power on the field at the moment collected itself and fought until the final whistle.
If that relentlessness keeps up for the next four years, the USMNT fans came to love years ago will blossom into a team the nation can finally rally behind again.
“One of the things we always want to see is a team that’s not afraid and I don’t think we were afraid,” Sarachan said. “We were maybe a little nervous here and there, but you want to see a team that’s not afraid, that will compete, that will challenge on plays and when it’s not good enough, you get punished by good teams and that’s what the value of playing these types of teams is.”