Watching the United States’ 3-0 loss to Brazil today, I was struck by how scared the US was of Brazil. It was as if the yellow shirts had some sort of psychological effect, as if the US players had been conditioned to fear them. That got me thinking about how reputations impact the game. Herewith are three truths from the US-Brazil match.
1. Brazil is still scary. Dunga’s team is not your father’s, nor even your older brother’s, Brazil team. Gone are the days of the exuberantly dancing, forward-pushing teams. Now we see a more prosaic, defensive-oriented – dare I say boring? – squad. There’s a reason Dunga has been criticized even though he does keep winning. People in Brazil are almost as obsessed as people in Barcelona with winning the “right way.” That is, with fun to watch, attacking soccer. Yet Brazil remain everybody’s second favorite team, largely because of its reputation.
But just because they actually consider defense as something more than what to do between offensive possessions doesn’t mean that Brazil is bad. No, they still have more than enough talent to go around. Rather than constantly pushing forward, Dunga has instituted a counter-attacking approach. Instead of Dani Alves flying down the wing all the time, Maicon picks his spots. He’s arguably more effective that way. Of course, against the hapless US, they looked like the Brazil of old.
2. The US is reckless. Ricardo Clark received a red card against Italy. Sacha Kljestan received a red card against Brazil. There have been numerous cards in World Cup Qualfying. I daresay the US is developing a bit of a reputation. Reckless challenges come from (a) a lack of preparation; (b) a lack of technical proficiency; and (c) a lack of discipline. The US midfield has displayed all three against Italy and Brazil; all of them, save Landycakes, were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. The end result was a reinforcement of their reckless reputation, leading to Kljestan’s straight red.
3. Landycakes deserves better. I never thought I’d say this, but Landon Donovan played well at both ends of the pitch. He did everything required of him – even tracking back into his own 18-yard box – even as his teammates let him down time and again. He has become a visibly better player over the last couple of years and is changing his reputation. He deserves another shot at Europe as he’s the only one who has shown up against both Italy and Brazil.