MATCHDAY 2 - BRAZIL VS. U.S.
Here's what I'm thinking a few hours before the Brazil-USA match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria…
It is perfectly understandable that the team's moral would be a little shaken after the 3-1 loss to Italy on Monday, given the way it went down. The Americans are faced with the tough task of meeting Brazil on two days rest, and for a number of reasons it may make sense for Coach Bob Bradley to make some changes to the starting lineup - foremost that a few new guys may change the demeanor on the field from the outset.
A concern would be that the US team comes out flat after a tough loss, akin to the way they came out against Honduras, when the Central Americans put one up in the fifth minute in Chicago. If that happens against Brazil, the Seleção doesn't know how to take its foot off the gas, and a justified fear would be that, with the American defense leaking goals from the left, right, and middle, this could turn into a blowout of historic proportions that could even set the American game back.
It's a bit unfair to put too much onus on Coach Bradley to avoid the above scenario, as there may be little he can to do spur the team to victory, but he is the man at the reigns and his pregame choices will help decide whether the US has a fighting chance or not. We will need to see the grit of the American team that appeared for the last 85 minutes against Honduras, and some new blood may be key to getting that to happen from the opening whistle.
Not that stand-in Jay Demerit didn't play well against Italy - he did reasonably well- but the US needs captain Carlos Bocanegra on the field if he is close to fit. He will be a late test Thursday. I think the rest of the defense will remain the same, so the changes the coach makes in midfield may be the key to US success.
With Ricardo Clark out, the US is likely to revert to a more traditional 4-4-2 against Brazil. That puts Michael Bradley back in his holding midfield role, and opens up another midfield spot for someone. My guess is we'll see Sacha Kljestan there, and just have to hope he brings his A-game. More daring options would be to try Jose Francisco Torres alongside Bradley, or even, crazy as it may sound, give Freddy Adu a run-out in this likely to be wide-open contest, though where his game is at right now is anyone's guess, and Bob Bradley is the man in the best position to assess that.
I also have a feeling that we'll see DaMarcus Beasley from the start on the left side of midfield, with Dempsey moved back to the right, and Landon Donovan paired up top with Jozy Altidore, in a withdrawn forward role which may get him closer to goal. The US will need to finish any and all opportunities it gets today if it hopes to have a chance.
Today is a tough day to draw Brazil, but this sort of thing, as Coach Bradley has pointed out, can happen at the World Cup as well, so given the choice, better to practice here. Yesterday was my first Brazilian press conference, and it was - well - interesting. The US media here are few and far between, but the Brazilians have brought a team of dozens of reporters, and most of them don't have a very good working relationship with Coach Dunga.
After a few short minutes of discussing the team's close call against Egypt, interspersed with some questions from South African media about the host country, the Brazilians began to get a bit critical with their questions. Dunga pushed back in the most amusing fashion, comparing individual reporters' levels of pessimism, and telling one in particular not to get angry that he hadn't responded the way the reporter had hoped.
Dunga also hinted that Kaka and some other regulars are tired after having only two rest days between games- one of which was a travel day. He strongly suggested that there may be wholesale changes in the starting lineup Thursday, and Kaka was among those potentially in line for a rest.
I'll again be twittering analysis from the stadium on the @yanks_abroad stream, beginning about an hour before game time. So tune in from home, the office, or wherever you happen to be.