Thanks to a much improved second half, the United States Men's National Team beat Peru last Friday in the first of two friendlies during this international window. While friendlies are always taken with a grain of salt, after the Gold Cup performance a win was needed to inject some confidence into the squad. No player needed that confidence boost more than Jozy Altidore, whose two goals led the Yanks to the 2-1 victory.
One more friendly remains before the Confederations Cup playoff on October 10, as the U.S. will take on mighty Brazil on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, UniMas). The "Seleção" sit at an uncharacteristically low fifth in the current FIFA world rankings. Normally one of the most dominant soccer nations in the world, a humiliating loss to Germany in the semifinals of the World Cup they hosted have them transitioning to a new era. While they're not the Brazil of 2002, they still boast some of the world's best players and will be an extremely tough test for the USMNT in Foxborough.
The victory over Peru was sight for sore eyes, but it did little in the way of answering questions about the team's overall problems. This match against Brazil should be a much better judge of where exactly this squad stands as it prepares for Mexico. Here's what you should be watching for:
Crowded in the back
Surprise, surprise, we're going to talk about the USMNT's defensive problems. Against Peru, the entire back line did an adequate job. One minor mistake by Omar Gonzalez led to Peru's extremely lucky goal, but other than that they did a fine job bending but not breaking in the first half. When the midfield took over the match in the second half, they looked just fine.
This doesn't mean that all of the team's defensive woes are solved. It's just a little bit of optimism thrown onto an otherwise bleak situation. John Brooks started next to Gonzalez and performed quite well. He appears to have the inside track to a starting role.
Who starts next to him seems to still be a giant question. Gonzalez played fine despite the one error in closing down the Peru goalscorer. Klinsmann seems to be in love with Ventura Alvarado, but he's still very young and raw. Matt Besler had a fantastic 25 minute appearance against Peru but has been sent back to his club team and won't get a chance to help his cause further. There just isn't a clear favorite in the race for the other center back spot. Whoever plays the best against Brazil could win the job.
Jozy Altidore's two-goal performance against Peru came at the most opportune time for the USMNT. The national team is at its best when Jozy is at the top of his game and in the mood. Unfortunately, while he had a great match the same cannot be said for his starting strike partner Bobby Wood who was virtually invisible in his 71 minutes of action.
Now that Jozy is hopefully back in the groove, it's time to find him the right partner to get the most out of the attack as possible. Clint Dempsey is unavailable and the Wood partnership just never got off the ground. That leaves Aron Johannsson, Andrew Wooten, possibly Gyasi Zardes, and new arrival to camp Jordan Morris as the remaining possibilities.
Johannsson seems the likely candidate and looked dangerous in his 20 minute cameo on Friday. For whatever reason, the partnership of Jozy and Johannsson just hasn't clicked in their few matches together. Could the Brazil friendly finally be the moment they form the dynamic partnership fans have been hoping to see for the last two years?
Brazil have so many great individual talents that focusing on just one may be unfair, but we're going to try. Our pick is Douglas Costa. We know what you're thinking -- "What about Neymar?!?!" -- Brazil manager Dunga has stated his intentions of starting the FC Barcelona winger on the bench to get a better look at his other players.
Costa joined Bayern Munich this summer and has already become one of the most dangerous attacking players in the Bundesliga. Just three weeks into the season he's already accounted for several highlight reel moments like this rainbow flick or this assist. He normally plays on the left wing because of Arjen Robben, but with Brazil expect him to play his natural inverted winger role on the right.
Tim Ream had an outstanding showing against Peru. If he gets the start at left back once again he's be in for the ultimate test trying to contain Costa and avoid ending up on a YouTube mixtape. He will need some help from the left sided midfielder in front of him (presumably Zardes) and the central midfielders. It will take a collective effort to shut down the dynamic winger.
Mixing up the midfield
Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones were the starting midfield pairing on Friday. Lets just say, it did not go well. Jones is just coming back from an injury and while he played well, he showed some of the obvious rust you'd expect. Bedoya on the otherhand struggled mightily. He could not keep possession and committed way too many turnovers, something he's been very prone to do throughout his international career. Mix Diskerud replaced him at halftime and the Mix/Jones pairing took over the match.
Expect Michael Bradley to pair with Jones against Brazil as he returns to the fold after fulfilling his club duties. Can the two reach an understanding in the flat 4-4-2 of when to attack and when to defend or will they revert back to the diamond?
Diskerud's 45 minutes on Friday will go overlooked because he did nothing in the way of flashy, but his ability to keep possession and always pick out the clean and precise pass will be appreciated by the most astute observers. He'll be waiting by on the bench if needed once again.
A Jordan Morris warning
As stated above, the exciting youngster Jordan Morris has been called into this match at the last minute by Klinsmann. While we certainly won't complain about getting the chance to see the talented Stanford Cardinal striker, his arrival in camp must come with a warning. He is just returning from a hernia surgery in the summer. He scored in his second match of the college season, but he is not close to 100 percent match fitness yet. Perhaps he'll get a late cameo against Brazil, but if he looks off it's because he's still trying to reach his full speed.
Here's the lineup we'd like to see start against Brazil: