PRETORIA, South Africa -- U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard looked and sounded shell-shocked after Brazil's 3-0 demolition of the U.S. here Thursday at the Confederations Cup. He had reason to be. The U.S. was never in the game, giving up a sixth-minute strike to Felipe Melo (on a headed free kick) and a 20th-minute counterattack goal to Robinho after a grade-school give-away by DaMarcus Beasley on a U.S. corner kick.
"Sometimes you just come up against Goliath," said Howard, "and David doesn't win."
Fair enough, but the talk around the U.S. heading into this tournament was that it was time for the Yanks to show that they weren't David anymore, that they could compete and push against Italy and Brazil in their first two games. That happened during the first half against Italy (before the floodgates burst in a 3-1 loss). But in the three halves since then? Not so much.
Asked to sum up the first two games, the U.S. players were uniformly (and deservedly) downbeat:
"Frustration," said Clint Dempsey, who has provided little offensive spark here.
"This hasn't been a great two games for us," said Howard. "If we can take this into the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying and apply some of the lessons we learned here and not be so naïve in certain instances, in a way it could be successful. But that's only if we apply it, not if we talk about it."
"We had to play two pretty perfect games to get a result out of these two games, and we didn't do that," said Landon Donovan.
Three other thoughts after postgame interviews following the game:
• U.S. coach Bob Bradley called his team "nervous" and "tentative" to start the game. If you're going to have any chance to get a result against Brazil, you have to go for it from the start. But the U.S. players were strangely demure. What happened to the reputation for balls-out effort and why-not-me brashness that Americans are known for? "We had a very nervous, tentative start to the game," Bradley said. "The early goal off a set piece put us in a difficult situation right from the start." Whether it's through better leadership or preparation, the U.S. players need to believe they can win against any team in the world whenever a game starts. That has to change in the year that remains before World Cup 2010.
• Sacha Kljestan got a strange red card. The U.S. picked up its second red card in as many games here when Kljestan took out midfielder Ramires and (after a long-delayed reaction) got sent off. "I lost the ball in a bad spot, and I tried to win it back right away," said Kljestan. "He played the ball off before I got there, and I got him in the foot. I don't know if it's a red or not, but I'm devastated that I let my team down." Like Ricardo Clark three nights earlier, Kljestan was surprised when the card was red. "It surprised me because the game played on and he took a few minutes," he said, "so someone must have talked in his ear."
• Bradley explained the rationale behind his lineup decisions. I was surprised that Kljestan (and not José Francisco Torres) started for the U.S. in the absence of the suspended Clark. But Bradley felt Dempsey was better-suited to be the man in the center of the U.S. midfield, with Michael Bradley playing in a deeper-lying role than usual to deal with the movement of Kaká, Robinho and Ramires.
"We tried to not have Clint all the way in the center, but have him tilted a little bit to the left," Bradley said, "give him freedom to find the spaces and use DaMarcus to help because we know that the ability of whether it's Daniel Alves or Maicon to come forward is going to be a major part of the threat. We felt DaMarcus' qualities in terms of giving us the width and ability to help out there would give Clint a little more freedom to find the game and give us a little bit deeper presence in midfield. But when the game starts and you're tentative, now it turns out DaMarcus was deeper than we would have hoped."
Bradley added that he thought Benny Feilhaber wasn't fit enough to play 90 minutes, and he went with Kljestan shaded to the right because he'd had some success in that position in previous 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-3 formations. "From his season and everything else, he had the fitness coming into the game to do a good job," Bradley said.
To hear Howard afterward, though, this blowout had nothing to do with tactics or coaching, and it had everything to do with the Brazilian and American players. "We just simply didn't execute," Howard said.
Any additional thoughts on the Confederations Cup and the U.S. team? Any light to shed on these postgame comments? Please post your thoughts below.
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