USMNT analysis

Analysis: USMNT rebounds to draw Brazil in final Copa America tune-up

ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks down the USMNT's 1-1 draw with Brazil in the final friendly before the Copa America. It was a welcome result following an ugly loss to Colombia and it provides a spark ahead of the major tournament on U.S. soil. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 13, 2024
8:05 AM

AFTER A SCHLACKING at the hands of Colombia on Saturday, the United States men’s national team responded in a big way on Wednesday night when they played Brazil to a 1-1 draw in the team’s final friendly before the 2024 Copa America. After a cohesive and intense effort in Orlando, the big question is now what version of the team will we see in the Copa America?

Somewhat surprisingly, Gregg Berhalter only made two changes to his starting lineup from the Colombia game. Yunus Musah replaced Johnny Cardoso in the midfield while Ricardo Pepi replaced Folarin Balogun at center forward.

The result was a fast-paced and open game that had a lot of shots. If not for some very good goalkeeping from both Matt Turner and Alisson, the game would have had a lot of goals for both teams.

The frantic start saw the U.S. team nearly open the scoring when Musah rattled the crossbar from a hard shot from outside the box. Then a minute later, Christian Pulisic forced a big save.

But in the 17th minute, Brazil took the lead following a counter attack that was finished by Real Madrid’s Rodrygo.

Then in the 26th minute, it was Pulisic who equalized on a free kick from just outside the box with a low shot.

The rest of the game continued to be open. Brazil had more good scoring chances on the balance, but the U.S. team still managed to create chances that tested Alisson and Brazil’s backline.

The 1-1 result now puts a lot of distance between the team and the Colombia disaster and allows them to move into the Copa America with positive momentum knowing they can compete and create chances against some of the world’s best teams.

"It was a great response," Berhalter said of his team's effort against Brazil. "When I say little steps, there are still really small things that we need to fix. That [Brazil] goal is a perfect example. We targeted the wrong spot. We were way too open. You don't kick balls into those areas. You leave yourself too exposed. We lost the ball too easily at times when we can keep it. With that stuff, we need to get better."

Here are some thoughts on the game


Mental improvement was huge


Forget tactics, game plans, or formations. This was an old-fashioned gut check for the United States national team. How would they respond after an ugly loss? When looking at the Colombia game, players were making basic mistakes. There wasn’t a commitment to team defense. There was poor decision making to dribble or pass into dangerous situations. Most of all, there was a lack of intensity.

"It was disappointing when the goal went in, because you're thinking here we go again," Berhalter said. "The first 20 minutes of the game, we give up a goal. But it was a great response from the guys. Those are the things that really build a team."

The U.S. team was still far from perfect against Brazil, and Brazil made some uncharacteristic mistakes as well with finishing, but the improvement was huge. The biggest difference was intensity. The U.S. team played with a purpose and played like the game mattered to them as much as it mattered to their opponents.

"We asked for teamwork and intensity," said Berhalter. "The way we framed it is two things that are totally in their control. It doesn't matter about the opponent, it doesn't matter about the field, the fans or anything. That's the type of effort that we saw today. The boys certainly did really well on that and that was good. We feel like we made a little step. Not a huge step."

The question now becomes keeping this intensity up. The fact that the Copa games matter and the team now has momentum will also help. But the Colombia game will serve as a reminder that the difference between the Americans playing well and playing poorly is narrow. If the team is dialed in, they can compete. If something is off, the team could get run off the field.


Scally helps his case


One of the most pleasant surprises over the course of both friendlies has been Joe Scally. The young right back had a tough season at Borussia Monchengladbach but he did finish the season playing his best soccer over the last four games. He also struggled in the Nations League semifinal in March against Jamaica when he was pulled at halftime.

"He just went out and did his job," Berhalter said of Scally. "And in both of these games I thought he did well and he certainly earned a spot on the roster."

Now with Sergino Dest out injured, Scally was in the spotlight to show he can handle the starting job in a major tournament. These two friendlies, he’s been one of the team’s biggest winners. He was one of the few bright spots in the Colombia loss and he did very well against Brazil on the defensive side.

Berhalter needed these two friendlies to fine tune and learn about his team. Right back was just one of many issues he needed to figure out, but Scally looks up to the task heading into the Copa.


Wings up, No. 9 down


One of the common criticisms of Berhalter’s system is that his team gets production out of the wings but very little of the No. 9 players. This has continued to be the case despite having a growing number of center forwards enter the pool who are scoring for their respective clubs. With Josh Sargent out, Folarin Balogun earned the start against Colombia and Ricardo Pepi started against Brazil. Neither forward was able to get on the scoresheet although Balogun came close against Colombia (while assisting on Tim Weah’s goal).

It's not all bad, however, as the wing production continues to be a strength. Pulisic continues to be in top form with the USMNT, as he has throughout the last four years even when in tough periods with his club such as the Chelsea years. Weah has never been a 2000-minute winger at the club level and even shifted to right wingback this past season for Juventus. But he is always more consistently dangerous with the USMNT.'

With the wingers cutting centrally to get into dangerous scoring positions, it requires better chemistry to get the No. 9’s into scoring positions since it’s not as simple as getting on the end of crosses.

Heading into the Copa America, this continues to be a work in progress. Balogun has never been strong with his USMNT chemistry and Pepi played only limited minutes in 2023/24 with PSV. Then we have Josh Sargent who has not been with the team since the 2022 World Cup but who has had a great season with Norwich. It is a health issue with him.

The fact that it continues to be an issue is a concern, but it’s also a huge amount of untapped potential with getting this team to hit its ceiling.


Turner’s rebound


Matt Turner had a big game against Brazil where he showed his strengths while also reminding us of his weaknesses. His poor pass up the middle on Brazil’s goal was an unnecessary risk as playing a poor ball up the middle against a team like Brazil usually gifts them a great chance. On the flip side, even if completed, it doesn’t offer the USMNT much. The rewards of such passes don’t justify the risks and Turner’s strength is not in completing such passes. It’s a problem of decision-making more than skill. Decisions have to play to the strengths of a player.

"He stayed calm, and that's the most important thing," Berhalter said of Turner. "I think he managed the game well. That was an incident that could have set back his confidence a little bit but he responded really well to that. Matt was a guy who wasn't so happy with his performance last game and you can see he came out and had a much better game."

On the other hand, Turner was brilliant with his shot stopping against Brazil. If he plays like that, he can keep the U.S. in games against great opponents. If he can avoid making mistakes and poor decisions with the ball at his feet, the odds are even further increased.


Plater Ratings


The starters

Matt Turner: Even with his poor pass up the middle that started Brazil’s counter on their goal, Turner was a still a net positive where he made 11 saves (several of which were impressive) en route to the draw. Rating: 8.0

Antonee Robinson: His final ball was lacking, and he was beat a few times defensively, but he was still a handful for Brazil to contain on the left side and he created several chances. The Fulham left back improved dramatically from his game against Colombia Rating: 6.5

Tim Ream: The Fulham (for now) central defender had a complete game, defending well and getting the ball effectively in the midfield to initiate possession. Rating: 7.5

Chris Richards: Like Ream, defended and passed well although he wasn’t pressed as much into emergency defending. Rating: 7.0

Joe Scally: Continued to make strides as Dest’s replacement for the Copa and the rest of 2024. It was a tough assignment to contain Rodrygo but he did well and was effective getting the ball into the attack several times, including on the play where Pulisic drew the equalizing free kick. Rating: 7.0

Yunus Musah: The AC Milan midfielder was a pleasant surprise in this game – particularly on the defensive side of the ball where he helped to neutralize Brazil’s attack up the middle. He nearly scored in the opening minutes with a shot off the crossbar. With the ball, he helped to keep possession and wasn’t dispossessed on the dribble – which could have been costly against a team like Brazil. Rating: 7.0

Weston McKennie: The Juventus midfielder was solid defensively, but didn’t really get too involved in the attack – where he is typically needed. Rating: 6.0

Gio Reyna: Another player who was improved from Colombia, playing with tenacity on both sides of the ball. He wasn’t too involved in many direct scoring opportunities but he helped in possession and drew three fouls. Rating: 6.5

Christian Pulisic: Was at his best and rose to the occasion when the team needed a good performance. He drew the foul and scored on the ensuing free kick. He forced Alisson to make a huge save in the second half. He set up Brenden Aaronson for a chance.  Rating: 8.0

Tim Weah: The Juventus man forced two saves to keep Alisson on his toes but his final ball was lacking a bit with his crosses and his dribbles were often unsuccessful. He also won just 3/11 of his ground duels. But he still played with urgency and was respected by the Brazilian defense. Rating: 6.0

Ricardo Pepi: Was marked too easily out of the game by Brazil and was unable to get a shot off or get into a dangerous position to test Brazil’s backline. Rating: 5.0


The substitutes

Johnny Cardoso: Came into the game in the 65th minute and helped in possession with 23/23 passing. Rating: 6.5

Folarin Balogun: Came into the game in the 65th and had a dangerous chance that was blocked. Overall, nine touches and one shot but a little more dangerous than Pepi Rating: 5.5

Tyler Adams: Entered the game in the 75th minute and brought fresh legs into the midfield as Brazil was pushing for the winner. Defended well to cut off passing lanes and was 5/5 in passing. Rating: 6.0

Brenden Aaronson: Entered the game in the 75th and brought some energy. He could have had the winner later on a pass from Pulisic but missed the target.  Rating: 5.5

Shaq Moore: Came into the game in the 85th as a late defensive sub. Rating: NR


Final Roster


Next up for the U.S. team will be the announcement of the Copa America roster which is due to CONMEBOL on June 15. The roster size for the Copa is 26 players and there were 27 players on this roster.

At least one player will be cut from this camp’s roster. The fact that Tyler Adams was able to play against Brazil means he will likely be worth the risk for a Copa America roster spot. He’s not at 100%, but he can still contribute.

Josh Sargent remains a possibility to be cut given that he was unable to play in either of the two friendlies. Berhalter said Sargent was “making progress” but whether he is progressing enough remains to be seen.

Berhalter also brought five central defenders with him to this camp. Given that he kept the Ream and Richards pairing together for both friendlies could suggest that he has his pairing for the Copa. That could also open the door for Cameron Carter-Vickers (who didn’t have a good shift off the bench against Colombia), Mark McKenzie, or Miles Robinson to be cut. Robinson is also a potential candidate to be an overage player for the Olympics. Does Berhalter need to bring five central defenders to the Copa if he has his top pairing?

There is the possibility that he cuts more than one player and adds another player to the team from outside the roster for this camp.

The fact that the team responded well against Brazil, however, will likely keep the number of changes from this camp to the Copa roster at a minimum.  

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