Thoughts on U.S.-Brazil

September, 9, 2007
Off the U.S.' 4-2 loss to Brazil, here's some quick thoughts on the game:

1. The U.S.' mental approach. Obviously no one was expecting a U.S. win so the final result was hardly a surprise. Having said that, aside from the move that led to Clint Dempsey's goal, the U.S. once again showed that it has a hard time creating clear-cut offensive openings against top-tier teams. However, what I did like was the energy and hustle the U.S. brought to the table today and more importantly the fact that the team played with confidence and tried to take it to Brazil, an aggressive mindset that was missing in last summer's World Cup (save for the Italy game).

2. The referee Benito Armando Archundia. It's annoying to talk about incompetent officiating since it takes away from the game, but there's no question that Archundia had a horrible game. He badly botched the decision not to give the U.S. a penalty when Josh Wolff was hauled down with an open goal in sight and gave a questionable free kick that led to Ronaldinho's goal and Brazil's third. You could even argue that he missed a possible handball call on Carlos Bocanegra's goal as well. This is just the latest travesty of a performance by Archundia, who made a couple of unbelievable decisions over the summer in both the Gold Cup (disallowing Canada's goal against the U.S.) and the Copa America (turning down a blatant penalty for Peru against Venezuela). If there's currently a worse referee than Archundia anywhere on the top level not named Rob Styles, I have yet to see him.

3. A blue-collar performance. As stated already, it was a generally scrappy (in the positive sense) performance by the U.S. so there weren't any real individual standouts for me (although defender Steve Cherundolo redeemed himself after his poor effort against Sweden). You could make a case for midfielder Michael Bradley being the U.S.' man of the match for breaking up countless attacks and tackling with authority -- although you have to wonder what he was thinking when he hauled down Julio Baptista in injury time for the penalty that led to Brazil's fourth. (It wasn't just that he fouled him, it was the reckless hands-on manner in which he did it.)

4. Brazilian fans have to be worried. It's been quite some time since Brazil produced a dominating performance worthy of their tradition (and no the Copa America win over Argentina doesn't fall into that category either). Under Dunga they've morphed into an increasingly boring stoic grind-it-out outfit that produces very few moments of flair. It's a problem that's exacerbated by Dunga's increasingly bizarre choices -- take for example, Afonso Alves. Sure he might have led the Dutch league in scoring last year, but he has a leaden touch, is cumbersome around the field and has blown numerous gilt-edged chances every time he's appeared for Brazil. Is this really the type of player Brazil has to try out at forward? Somehow I think not.

5. Ronaldinho where art thou? OK, he scored with a nice free kick. However, for all the praise showered on Ronaldinho, he looks nothing like the player he was a couple of years ago. At Soldier Field he looked heavy and sluggish and seems content these days just to dink little passes everywhere. Sure, the pass to Kaka that cleaved the U.S. defense wide open was remarkable, but too often he would try cute passes in the final third that went nowhere, when the more obvious choice would have been to shoot himself (which he used to do) or take someone off the dribble (something he does less and less these days).
Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to in 2005.


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