The United States will be aiming to put in a morale-boosting performance heading into their crucial Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico next month when hosting five-time World Cup winners Brazil in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Tuesday. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side began to put the disappointment of a semifinal exit at the Gold Cup behind them with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Peru last week. But Brazil promises a very different challenge.
“If you have too much respect for them then you can really get crushed because they sense that right away,” Klinsmann said ahead of the match, reports the Boston Globe. “If you give them the taste that it’s Brazil, it’s the yellow jersey, we’re backing off here, then good luck. Then it could really end up in a lesson and we don’t want to end up in a lesson in terms of result. We want to give them a game.”
Klinsmann has come under scrutiny following his team’s shock defeat to Jamaica that ensured the United States’ worst Gold Cup finish since 2000. And things appeared to be taking another turn for the worse last Friday when Peru took a first-half lead off a deflected strike that looped over goalkeeper Brad Guzan. But Jozy Altidore struck twice after the interval to give the team a much-needed shot of morale ahead of the important clash with Mexico on Oct. 10, which will decide who goes to Russia in 2017.
Altidore’s goals were a particularly encouraging sign after the striker’s poor form that led to his removal from the Gold Cup squad after the group stage. Another boost for Klinsmann was a key double-save from Guzan when the game was tied. The Aston Villa goalkeeper is now under strong pressure for a starting berth following the return to the international fold of Tim Howard.
And, while Clint Dempsey remains with Seattle Sounders nursing an injury, the U.S. squad will be boosted against Brazil by the return of Michael Bradley. The midfielder’s arrival is almost certain to mean at least one change in the lineup from Klinsmann, with the Toronto FC man potentially lining up alongside Jermaine Jones in the center and Alejandro Bedoya shifting out wide. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson and Stanford forward Jordan Morris have also linked up with the squad, while Matt Besler and William Yarborugh have been allowed to rejoin their club sides.
The U.S. will be taking on a Brazil side that has lost plenty of its luster of late. Following on from last year’s never-to-be-forgotten 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany on home soil at the World Cup, Brazil was dumped out of this summer’s Copa America at the quarterfinal stage by Paraguay. Bradley, though, believes a meeting with Brazil still presents one of the sport’s great challenges.
“Brazil is Brazil,” he told reporters on Monday, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We can talk about the World Cup ending in a disappointing way for them last summer, we can talk about Copa America not having gone perfectly, but Brazil is Brazil, in terms of their reputation but also in terms of their quality, in terms of the number of players that they’re able to draw from.
“As always we have respect for them -- respect and nothing more. Hopefully we’ll step on the field and look to see if we can make it a real game.”
Brazil had gone into the Copa America on the back of 10-straight friendly wins under Dunga, who was appointed coach for a second time following the team’s World Cup exit. But, following the disappointment in Chile, the former World Cup winning midfielder, a largely unpopular appointment in the first place, is under pressure ahead of the start of South America’s ultra-competitive World Cup qualifying campaign next month.
Brazil had their own match on U.S. shores in the past week, dominating Costa Rica in New Jersey, although only able to win 1-0 off of an early goal from Hulk. Much of the talk since that victory has concentrated on Neymar’s appearance for just 10 minutes at Red Bull Arena and whether he will be back in the starting lineup against the U.S.
The Barcelona forward will miss Brazil’s first two qualifiers as he completes a suspension picked up at the Copa America. And it appears Dunga is keen to get his team more comfortable playing without their talisman and could even leave him out of the starting lineup again at Gillette Stadium. Neymar, however, is in no mind to become familiar with life on the bench.
“Being benched is not something I'm used to and I'm not willing to get used to it,” he told ESPN Brasil. "I want to play and I'm always working to be amongst the starting XI.”
Kickoff time: 8 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN2, UniMás, Univision Deportes