By Jacob Klinger
The Brazil squad that the U.S. faces Wednesday night is a "young team."
That really can't be all that encouraging. Especially when one considers that this team is young because, after a more disciplined Brazil team coached by former team captain, Dunga, failed to make it past the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup the nation insisted the team play a more beautiful game.
So the world's most famous international team re-Brazilianized with the kind of quick, free-flowing, creative, attack-minded players that made the country famous in the first place. Led by Neymar, that class of players forms one of the most fearsome attacking units in the world.
Though it holds at most, a flashlight, to Brazil, the American attack did not look too far from world-class itself against Scotland Saturday night. But looks are deceiving and it was a Scotland team under little pressure. Brazil is an entirely different animal. So what matters now?
In terms of personnel, not much.
The midfield was suffocatingly dominant in Jacksonville, snuffing out Scottish attacks before they could start before spraying the ball side to side, back and forth, up and down, diagonally and then some. With an in-form trio of Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones one would expect the U.S. to concede little against most any team. To take nothing away from the distribution of Bradley and Jones, as well as Edu, having two of the most technically astute players the U.S. has ever produced, Landon Donovan and Jose Torres, dropping into midfield did wonders for Klinsmann's team and wreaked havoc on Craig Levein's, too. As such, they should all stay. Dempsey isn't ready for 90 minutes yet anyway and Torres has done plenty to keep his starting spot for now.
Aside from some inexperienced mistakes from Geoff Cameron, the defense was solid and Terrence Boyd did most everything but score.
Ultimately, expect 10 of Saturday's 11 to start again. Klinsmann is trying to mold together a first XI for qualifying and with a well-rested and fit team, there's little need to change much. The lone change should be in the center of defense where I expect one of Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu and Michael Parkhurst to fill in for the shaky Cameron. Parkhurst is probably the best passer, but this is more of a defense-first kind of game. With that in mind, Onyewu gets nod. The big man's passing is severely underrated as is and his athleticism will be needed to match the shiftiness of Brazil's attackers.
This is a flexible American team, though, and the lack of lineup changes do not mean the team will come out in the same fashion as it did against Scotland.
Bradley, Edu and Jones all have massive motors. But Wednesday night they will have to put the brakes on a little bit. If they go around chasing every Brazilian pass of the ball, the midfield will gobble up half of the team's subs by halftime.
Edu will still play deepest with Bradley and Jones being asked to do more of the chasing. It is when and where they press that will decide the game though. The team was very wise to double and even triple-team Scotland's midfielders in wide areas, using the touchline as an extra defender with uncompromising teammates helping to close out plays. Even Brazil will struggle to crack the core of this team, yet if the U.S. is to put any real pressure on Brazil, Jose Torres will liekly be at the center of it.
There were very few gaps in the American lines Saturday. Klinsmann stresses shape just as much as Bradley did, it just has a way of looking prettier at times. Torres will again be key in this, linking the defense to the attack. Against Brazil, though, this will require greater width.
For all its accomplishments against Scotland, the U.S. was still too narrow and badly dependent on its fullbacks for to stretch the field. Torres is a natural at checking back toward his own goal, turning and setting up the attack, but Fabian Johnson will not be bombing forward as often as he did against Scotland. Though his early checked runs proved effective enough in the long run on Saturday, Torres will have to pull wider on Wednesday evening.
Too much attack from Johnson will only end in ruthless counters from Brazil. A back line already short on speed trying to defend some of the world's best attackers without its quickest member can only end badly.
Despite playing with one less option, Torres will again, check for passes from the three-man wall of deep-lying midfielders. Brazil will let him and most of his teammates play as the vistors are not a particularly high-pressing team. Still, without the pacy runs of Johnson to free up space and with little speed himself, Torres must pick out the right passes from a striker pulling wide, either of the two supporting "wall" midfielders and whichever of Bradley and Jones charges forward and Donovan on the right.
World-class counter-attackers will grace FedEx Field Wednesday night. Donovan is one of them.
And while the team's all-time leading goal-scorer who tricked the world into thinking he was on the verge of retirement last week will not conduct play like the midfield maestro some fans unfairly expect him to be, he is the proverbial X-factor. If Donovan can open up space in the Brazilian defense, especially when its fullbacks are out of position as they inevitably will be, then his team has every chance in the world to beat Brazil.
This American team appears to be as smart as any the U.S. has ever fielded. Its runs are coordinated, its midfield pressure can be devastatingly synchronized and its attackers know the simple whens and wheres that American teams of the past simply did not exploit.
Klinsmann's team can't pressure Brazil into its own area like it did Scotland. But if the team, as a defensive unit can do what it does best: force teams wide and dominate the crosses it allows, then they will be in the game for the entire 90 minutes.
Consider that the U.S. only had seven shots on goal against Scotland. Five went in. A lot has to go right to beat Brazil, but good team shape, an unbreaking defense and savvy passing play are well within the team's capability. Goals don't come so naturally, but if Donovan and co. stay hot in front of the net, a win just might.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... What kind of chance do you give Klinsmann's team against Brazil? Did Boyd do enough for you to keep his place in the XI? Can Bocanegra's defense really keep Brazil at bay or does the U.S. need Howard to stand on his head. You. Me. Facebook comments section. Let's go!
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at email@example.com.
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