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US about to learn its place in the world

Landon Donovan
The US men's national team face Brazil on Wednesday, their toughest test this summer.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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It has been almost three years since the Confederations Cup Final, the only FIFA tournament final the US Men’s national team has ever played in. Almost three years since the Americans saw a 2-0 halftime lead evaporate into a 3-2 defeat as the Brazilian national team did what they have done to so many opponents before, and have done to the US several times before.

“It makes you think back to that game and how close you were,” said US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who started in 2009 and will start against Brazil on Wednesday night. “It still hurts to be so close to winning in a major final, but that’s life. That’s football, and it shows you how potent they can be.”

The memories of that loss aren’t going to be driving any sort of motivation for the USA to beat Brazil when the teams face off Wednesday night at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md., but that game does offer us insight of what can happen when a full-strength American team takes it to a full-strength Brazil side.

“One of the keys that we’ve found, and had a little bit of success with, is exploiting their strengths,” Howard said. “I think in the Confederations Cup you saw we countered their counter. We defended well, hit them on the break and on that night we scored a few goals on the counterattack.

“You have to be disciplined against a team who likes to pick their spots and break on you,” Howard said. “That’s one thing (this) US team is, very disciplined and hard working. If that’s the foundation and the basis for how we want to play then that will stand us in good stead.”

Led by superstars Neymar, Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva, Brazil will provide the toughest opponent the Americans will face all summer. The kind of test that will show us just how far along this US team has come in the nine months since Klinsmann took over as US head coach.

U.S. CAMP NOTEBOOK

 

FOX Soccer's Ives Galarcep will provide daily segments from Jurgen Klinsmann's USMNT training camp from Orlando, Florida.

 

“We want to see where we’re at now against one of the best teams in the world,” Klinsmann said. “(Brazil) love to dictate their own game. They’re used to setting the tone, and they have wonderful players, but now it’s interesting for us. The situation is how much can we take (it) to them? How much can we go eye-to-eye on the field in certain areas and certain elements in terms of tempo. In terms of tactical approaches. In terms of closing them down and also (playing) our game and (going) forward and (causing) them trouble.

“It is an exciting benchmark,” Klinsmann said. “It will tell us a lot about where we are in our process, and it will definitely help us for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.”

The United States won’t be completely at full strength on Wednesday. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are unlikely to start as they work to catch up fitness wise after missing the team’s training camp in Florida. Dempsey has been coming back from an injury and Altidore’s club team, AZ, didn’t release him for national team duty until Monday. Even without those two top attacking starters, the US team still has enough talent to testing Brazil the way they did that June night in 2009.

The United States comes in riding a wave of confidence after beating Italy in Genoa in February, and destroying Scotland on Saturday in Jacksonville. Those victories have helped give Klinsmann a better sense about his best possible lineup, while also giving a veteran team a boost heading into tough stretch of matches.

“(Beating Italy) gave us confidence going into the Scotland game, knowing that we went into a really difficult place and beat Italy on its own turf,” Howard said. “They played their strongest team possible and they certainly wanted that game badly, and we did that.

“That gives us encouragement to have confidence to go out there and keep testing ourselves.”

Here are three keys to watch for in the USA-Brazil match on Wednesday night:

THE CENTRAL MIDFIELD BATTLE

The US team’s 4-3-2-1 formation, known traditionally as the ‘Christmas Tree’ formation, did extremely well against Scotland, but Klinsmann may not have the luxury of starting that same midfield against Brazil. If Klinsmann decides to deploy attacking players in wider positions, such as slotting Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez in as wide players in a 4-2-3-1, then he will have to sacrifice a central midfielder in order to provide more cover on the flanks.

Who would sit from the Scotland victory? If Klinsmann is serious about seeing Jose Torres as the tempo controller he wants in the heart of his attack, we could see this starting lineup:

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Tim Howard; Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson; Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley; Herculez Gomez, Jose Torres, Landon Donovan; Terrence Boyd.

If Klinsmann chooses to stick with the ‘Christmas Tree’, we could wind up seeing just two changes from the Scotland game. Onyewu replacing Geoff Cameron seems like a safe bet, while Gomez could replace Boyd.

CONTROLLING THE WINGS

Scotland provided little in the way of an offensive threat on the flanks, and applied little pressure defensively, which allowed the Americans to control the wings for the most part during their 5-1 victory. Brazil is a completely different animal, with serious speed and skill on the flanks capable of torching even the best defenders.

One of the keys to Brazil’s dominant 2-0 victory against the USA on Aug. 10, 2010 was their ability to abuse starting American fullbacks Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein, with Neymar having particular success. The United States will field a significantly stronger set of fullbacks on Wednesday, with Fabian Johnson and Steve Cherundolo having looked good in both wins against Italy and Scotland. Look for them to push forward in order to force Brazil to defend the flanks.

“Obviously you see that during the game how far you can go high up and put pressure on them in their own half and make the spaces really tight and difficult for them to come through,” Klinsmann said.

Brazil’s strong, wide play could force Klinsmann to change up formations, and play a set-up with more width. Starting Donovan and Gomez as wide players in a 4-2-3-1 could help offer support for the American fullbacks while also giving the USA some good attacking options on the counter.

CHALLENGING BRAZIL’S CENTERBACKS

With Dempsey and Altidore unlikely to start, the USA will have a much tougher time trying to put pressure on the strong Brazilian centerback tandem of Thiago Silva and Juan. Boyd showed against Scotland that he has the strength to hold up the ball, and the intelligence to make good runs.

Does that mean he starts again on Wednesday? It definitely could, especially if Klinsmann decides he wants to use a one-forward system. Boyd is still the best natural target forward available to start (Altidore will take over the job once he’s fit). Gomez and Chris Wondolowski are intriguing options to start, but Gomez seems better suited to play wide against Brazil while Wondolowski would be a better fit if the US played a 4-4-2.
 

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