Beautiful game spells doom for U.S.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This was what Brazilian fans expected of its national team at the World Cup: free-flowing football, clever passes and a youthful core of exciting players, led by Alexandre Pato and Neymar. O jogo bonito, the beautiful game, was on display -- at least Brazil's half -- in New Jersey, and it was more than enough to defeat an almost full-strength, lackluster U.S. national team, 2-0.
The U.S. took the initiative early on but didn't concern its opponents much with a few runs and some high pressure. As the first period progressed, Brazil seized control. The U.S.'s problems began in the back, where a leaky line was caught out by Brazilian overlaps on splendidly measured through balls and long balls. In the midfield, the Americans passed poorly and failed to put pressure on Brazil, giving their opponents too much time on the ball to dictate play. By failing to close down on Brazil's midfielders, the U.S. gifted the Selecao a field day, where they easily played their strikers into prime real estate.
Little wonder the Stars and Stripes failed to muster much of a threat.
As for the offense, only a Herculez Gomez header and a handful of runs by Jozy Altidore, during which his dubious dribbling betrayed him, ever really saw the U.S. get near Brazil's goal. That the score remained 2-0 was more to do with Brazil's lack of urgency in the second half than anything the U.S. did.
Here's how each U.S. player performed.
(1-10; 10 = best)
Tim Howard, goalkeeper, 6 -- In a steady half of work, Howard took his saves well and helped shore up a leaky back line. You can't blame Howard for either of Brazil's goals. That blame lies more with the back line and midfield.
Jonathan Bornstein, defense, 3.5 -- The spot of left back is as up for grabs as ever, as Bornstein again showed that he isn't the solution. He spent his night getting skinned by wingers and let Neymar slip in front of him for the first goal.
Carlos Bocanegra, defense, 5.5 -- While the central defender lost Alexandre Pato on the second goal, a situation that started with the U.S.'s poor midfield display, Bocanegra was overall steady in his 60 minutes, a quality in short supply on the night.
Omar Gonzalez, defense, 5 -- The young defender announced that he'd be nervous about making his debut. It showed. Gonzalez let Pato past him in the ninth minute, when Howard made a good save, and was in trouble again on Pato's called-off goal a little later. He got through his first game without a big gaffe, though, and when making your debut against Brazil, that's not so bad.
Jonathan Spector, defense, 5 -- Spector held his ground opposite fast and unpredictable foes as often as he was exposed. He was also conspicuously absent when Brazil pushed through on its left for the opening goal. To his credit, Spector sent in several dangerous crosses.
Benny Feilhaber, midfield, 5 -- Although he looked threatening early on, Feilhaber quickly receded into obscurity as his only half of play wore on. He put in a useful touch to defuse a dangerous situation that was of his own making. Other than that, his play on the left was unconvincing.
Maurice Edu, midfield, 4 -- He toiled in mediocrity, misplacing passes and offering too much room to his Brazilian counterparts. While he wasn't entirely to blame for Tuesday night's loss, he wasn't much help either.
Michael Bradley, midfield, 7 -- Although Bradley was partly culpable on the second goal, he was again peerless in midfield. As always, he closed gaps, backed up his teammates, hustled around the pitch and deftly distributed the ball. If ever the next U.S. contender had a cornerstone building block, Bradley is it.
Alejandro Bedoya, midfield, 4 -- Bedoya detracted from the defense more than he contributed to the offense. Other than winning a corner, no positive net result was recorded from him. If his 66 minutes on the field showed anything, it's that he has a long way to go yet.
Landon Donovan, forward, 6.5 -- In front of a huge crowd, Donovan couldn't quite appease those that had come for the rare chance to see the U.S. take on a world power on home soil. A nice early touch on a ball from Buddle showed promise, but the play was halted by a challenge on Donovan that should have been a penalty. While he worked hard and applied pressure where he could, Donovan's influence wasn't much before coming off after 60 minutes.
Edson Buddle, forward, 4.5 -- Buddle's excellent pass to Donovan in the box early in the first (and Buddle's only) half was the highlight of his night. Otherwise, he spent too much time isolated and starved of service.
Jozy Altidore, forward, 6 -- He provided what little danger the U.S. mustered, finding himself on the end of several long balls. But those passes required Altidore to run at goal, which isn't his strength.
Sacha Kljestan, midfield, 6 -- Kljestan revamped the American attack after his entrance into the fray. While he wasn't always effective in setting up his peers, his runs infused danger into the U.S.'s otherwise lethargic wing-play.
Brad Guzan, goalkeeper, 7 -- That Brazil didn't run up the score had much to do with Guzan's breakout second half. He punched, slapped, grabbed and pushed the U.S. out of trouble and was at least as good as Tim Howard on the day.
Robbie Findley, forward, 3.5 -- As could be expected of the Real Salt Lake forward, Findley had little to offer the U.S. in this game. His poor touch deceived him on every occasion.
Clarence Goodson, defense, 5.5 -- The tall central defender was serviceable in the middle, but also wasn't tested too much.
Herculez Gomez, midfield, 5.5 -- With little involvement in the run of play, Gomez did get his head onto the ball thanks to a good cross from Spector for the Americans' most dangerous chance of the game.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.