4 Thoughts on the U.S. U-23 Team's 2-1 Loss to Brazil
November 12, 2015
THE UNITED STATES U-23 TEAM dropped its first of two friendlies against Brazil on Wednesday night in Recife. The 2-1 final score flattered the Americans, who were outplayed from the opening whistle and only got into the game once Brazil was reduced to 10 men early in the second half.
The visitors were on their heels from the start and eventually caved in the 42nd minute, when a perfectly placed pass from Marseille’s Lucas Silva found Gabriel, who dribbled around goalkeeper Charlie Horton and sent the ball into the open net for a 1-0 lead. In the 47th, Silva picked up his second assist by setting up Luan for a shot that deflected off Oscar Sorto and in.
The two tallies proved to be all Brazil would need.
The Americans’ loan goal came 10 minutes later, when Jerome Kiesewetter forced a turnover, tripping penalty, and red card from Doria inside his own box. The Stuttgart attacker then stepped up and hit an unstoppable penalty to put the United States on the scoreboard.
Maki Tall had the U.S. team’s best chance to equalize in stoppage time on a ball into the box, but he sent an open header over the bar and Brazil walked away with a much-deserved win. The two sides next will face off again on Sunday, and you’d have to think that U.S. head coach Andi Herzog is now scrambling for answers as he faces the prospect of being a heavy underdog to Colombia in March.
Here are four takeaways from Wednesday’s loss.
Brooks showed his class
Jurgen Klinsmann made the surprising announcement last week that Matt Miazga would be on the senior team for its two upcoming World Cup qualifying matches, and when Herzog named his roster we learned that Miazga and 2014 World Cup hero John Brooks would essentially be swapping roles.
Brooks has struggled at times with the senior side and has drifted in and out of Hertha Berlin’s starting lineup. But against a very talented Brazil U-23 team comprised of players from top clubs in top leagues, Brooks was named the captain and played one of his best games in a U.S. jersey.
If not for Brooks—easily one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise dismal night—the scoreline probably would have been far worse.
Green and Shelton were invisible
Julian Green was also brought back to the U-23 team, in his case after Herzog had simply dropped him during Olympic qualifying. The Bayern Munich reserve attacker disappointed, however, and was largely a non-factor. He had little success either in taking on defenders one-on-one or in combining with his teammates. On a night when he in particular had a big opportunity to improve his standing on the team, Green failed to do so.
New York City FC’s Khiry Shelton had little success, either. Deployed as the team’s lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation, he was unable to hold the ball up or get into dangerous positions. After spending a large portion of 2015 injured, Shelton may have been rusty (and in an unfamiliar position), but he nonetheless has a long way to go to be an option for the Colombia series.
Zelalem showed value farther back
After Doria was sent off, Gedion Zelalem became he most important player on the field for the Americans, playing not in a true “No. 10” role but in a deeper-lying playmaking position. It worked out very well, and that seemed to indicate that it’s where he’s best used on the field.
Zelalem, 18, struggled in Oympic qualifying while in a more advanced role, but against Brazil and with Rangers he plays deeper and creates scoring chances from there. The U.S. has an abundance of central midfielders, but if Herzog wants to get the best out of Zelalem, perhaps that’s where he’ll play him against Colombia.
Central-midfield pair struggled
In the 4-2-3-1 formation, Herzog elected to start two pure defensive midfielders together—Matt Polster and Fatai Alashe. The two are cut from the same cloth—they both are physical and not great at holding the ball in tight spaces, a redundancy that greatly affected the United States’ ability to maintain any kind of possession.
One of these two on the field could be beneficial, to be sure, but not both at once. If the U-23s are to compete in the midfield against top teams, their defensive midfielders will have to be more possession-oriented.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.