It would be easy, I think, to use this space to slam USMNT coach Bob Bradley for his substitution patterns – not only today, but for the entirety of the Confederations Cup. And I do think there should have been reinforcements starting at the hour mark today, given how the half was unfolding; that Brazil had already pulled a goal back from a 2-0 halftime deficit; and we probably had some tired folks out there.
But I can’t singularly put the blame on Bradley for today’s loss. I think it would be a little over the top, to be honest. Some even go as far as to say the US wins despite Bradley, which is logic I can’t get behind. He deserves appropriate blame for the things that make us lose. But that can’t be given out without also handing proper credit when the team does the things that make us win.
I didn’t have any hope that the US was going to beat Spain on Wednesday. None. That they did was a great accomplishment, and one that today’s come-from-ahead loss shouldn’t wash away from the record or our memories. And today’s final result doesn’t change what we saw from the US in the first half against Brazil today. They were daring, willing to play the game against one of the best, and the counterattack that led to Landon Donovan’s goal to make it 2-0 was a thing of beauty – practically right out of Brazil’s very own playbook.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. Maybe a sub or two on the hour would have made the difference. But I don’t know how many teams could have held out Brazil the way they played in the second half. There were a couple of times where the US was on the ball in somewhat dangerous position, and maybe going up 3-1 or 3-2 would have been enough to win the Confederations Cup once and for all.
We’ll never know. Brazil did what they do and the US wasn’t good enough to hold out despite strong efforts from everyone involved. There’s no shame in that to me.
I don’t think those who still want Bradley fired are going to get their wish between now and the trip to Mexico on August 12. But the US – and the head coach specifically – should take valuable lessons from the last two games; going back to my theme in my last writing about how I felt getting these two games and leaving on good form would be important. Admittedly, I thought that form would come in a loss to Spain and a win over South Africa, but I’m OK with how it turned out.
First lesson: Tighter marking and a greater defensive commitment when up a goal or two in the final 30 minutes. Not a full-out bunker. But bring on players to reinforce those playing their asses off on the field, and above all, make sure everyone is accounted for on restarts. And yes, it’s OK to bring on a mid or forward that can give the opposing defense something to think about when the US does get on the ball, which leads into the next point.
Second lesson: While the other team might be bringing 80% of the pressure, there are still going to be times when the US gets on the ball and can create an attack. Those chances must be taken advantage of. We saw Charlie Davies in the middle of a couple of those chances, and a couple bad passes kill attacks where the US had numbers forward in the face of Brazil’s blitz. Someone has to be cold-hearted enough to hammer the death blow. It’s the only way championships are won. The US were just short of that today, and paid for it. It sucks, but that’s life on the big stage.
But we’ll see this situation again. There’s no reason to think this US team can’t get a lead at Mexico in August. There’s no reason to think the US won’t again have to face a mountain of pressure, away from home, trying to hold on for a meaningful result – one it can be argued would be greater than winning the Confederations Cup.
I know some, maybe many, want someone else in charge prior to that match at Mexico. I can’t say I agree at this point. I don’t know who would take over, and I don’t know that shaking things up in the middle of qualifying is all that hot an idea.
But … there is certainly a valid point in looking at the Mexico match to see if Bradley, and the team, have learned their lessons from this experience. The two extra games proved to be quite valuable both on the field and off. Short of winning the Cup, that’s the best that can be hoped for.
The key issue to me now is how the USMNT builds once the Gold Cup ends and qualifying resumes.