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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: May 31, 12:34 PM ET
U.S. sharp in attack, not defense

By Jeff Carlisle
ESPN.com

Jurgen Klinsmann's approach of pressing high defensively and playing at a high tempo may be new to the U.S., but such concepts have long been staples of Brazil's game. And after the two sides squared off on Wednesday, the verdict was clear: The master still holds sway over the apprentice, as Brazil claimed a 4-1 victory.

Goals by Neymar and Thiago Silva staked the visitors to a 2-0 lead inside 30 minutes, only for the U.S. to pull a goal back through Herculez Gomez just before halftime. But a lightning-quick counter attack in the 52nd minute was expertly finished off by Marcelo, and while the U.S. had enough self-belief to try to climb back into the match, the visitors always looked threatening on the break. Alexandre Pato ultimately closed out the scoring in the 87th minute, converting with authority from Marcelo's cross.

The temptation will be to think that the U.S. outing was an utter failure, especially when you consider that this Brazil side was heavily populated with younger players. But the scoreline could certainly be considered harsh. The U.S. did show glimpses of what its attack is capable off, especially when Gomez finished off a flowing move constructed by Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson. And a late flurry saw the Americans force Brazilian goalkeeper Rafael Cabral into a series of sharp saves.

But to beat Brazil requires a solid defensive performance from all involved, and the Americans fell well short in this regard. There was certainly an element of misfortune when Oguchi Onyewu was whistled for a penalty after Romulo's shot struck him in the arm. But before and after Neymar converted the spot kick in the 12th minute, Onyewu was suffering through a substandard performance. Central partner Carlos Bocanegra was only slightly better, losing too many one-on-one battles with Brazilian forward Leandro Damiao.

Onyewu's night got worse in the 26th minute when his attempt to pass on the responsibility of marking Thiago Silva to Jermaine Jones during a corner kick backfired completely. The Brazilian defender ending up completely unmarked to head home Neymar's delivery.

That proved to be too big a hole for the U.S. to climb out of, and tilted the tactical advantage heavily in favor of Brazil. It could afford to sit back and hit the U.S. on the counter, and it was from just such a strike that Marcelo iced the match. A turnover saw Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu caught too far up field, and Hulk and Neymar created a two-on-one against Steve Cherundolo, allowing Marcelo to eventually convert Neymar's feed.

To the Americans' credit, they didn't resort to a defend-and-counter strategy to keep the score respectable. Gomez, Clint Dempsey and substitute Terrence Boyd all went close, with Cabral delivering a stunning double save in the 77th minute. But the approach allowed the game to get somewhat out of hand, with Pato completing the scoring.

To be sure, the Americans took some lumps on this night, and the state of the back line will be cause for worry ahead of one last friendly against Canada on June 3 before World Cup qualifying begins on June 8. Onyewu's form will certainly have to be monitored. But if the U.S. is to eventually come within touching distance of Brazil's level, it's bound to include a heavy defeat or two against quality opponents. The attack is certainly beginning to show signs of progress. Klinsmann just has to make sure it doesn't come at the expense of his team's defense.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=best)

G Tim Howard, 6 -- Did have one questionable punch that went straight to Hulk, but did well to stymie Leandro Damiao on an 18th-minute breakaway.

D Fabian Johnson, 7 -- Didn't look awed defensively and got forward to good effect. His cross that Gomez converted may have been deflected, but it was good enough.

D Carlos Bocanegra, 4 -- Lost too many physical battles and was out of sync with Onyewu.

D Oguchi Onyewu, 2 -- Struggled in all phases, be it positioning, touch or passing. The handball he committed on the penalty was a harsh call, but there's no excusing the communication breakdown with Jones that led to Brazil's second goal. Nearly made amends with a late header that hit the bar.

D Steve Cherundolo, 5.5 -- Survived a difficult matchup against Neymar and had a critical clearance when it was 2-0. Found it difficult to contribute on the attacking end, but a decent performance overall.

M Jermaine Jones, 5 -- His giveaway set the stage for the eventual penalty call, and was left trailing Thiago Silva on the second. Had his moments in attack, teeing up Jose Torres for a chance and flicking on a throw-in for Donovan that was hit wide.

M Maurice Edu, 5 -- Did what he could defensively, but was a bit flat in the attack. Got caught upfield in the buildup to Brazil's third goal.

M Michael Bradley, 7 -- Had some uncharacteristic giveaways early on, but gradually grew into the game and began finding the range on his passes. Set the table perfectly for Johnson in the run-up to Gomez's goal.

M Jose Torres, 4 -- Was invisible for much for the first half, save for a horribly skewed shot on goal in the 22nd minute. In games like this, he needs to do more to find the ball.

M Landon Donovan, 4.5 -- Hit a good chance wide in the 29th minute. Otherwise he was generally shackled by Marcelo in the attacking third, although he did perk up late through some set pieces.

F Herculez Gomez, 7 -- Worked hard, drew fouls and generally made a pest of himself, all of which paid off in a finely taken goal. Was even seen tracking back deep into his own half to help out defensively. Denied a second goal thanks to a superb save from Rafael Cabral.

Subs:

M Clint Dempsey, 7 -- Looked reasonably sharp after his injury layoff and sent an inch-perfect ball that released Gomez in the 77th minute.

D Michael Parkhurst, 4 -- Was badly burned by Neymar in one sequence, but wasn't alone in that regard.

F Terrence Boyd, 5.5 -- Was active and nearly opened his U.S. account only to be denied by the Brazilian keeper.

D Edgar Castillo, 4 -- Left Pato wide open on Brazil's fourth, although this was due in part to Onyewu keeping the striker onside.

M Kyle Beckerman, NR -- Came on for a late cameo.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.