Three thoughts on my mind heading into the U.S.'s friendly with Brazil in the Washington, D.C., area on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/3, Telefutura):
• Can the U.S. keep up its impressive run? After a slow start in charge, manager Jurgen Klinsmann has lately been getting what he wants from this U.S. team. A historic 1-0 friendly win at Italy in February showed these Yanks weren't afraid of a world champion and knew how to pick their spots in the attack. And Saturday's 5-1 mauling of Scotland was a blast of the dynamic attacking energy Klinsmann wants to see against midlevel foes. Now comes Brazil, another world champion, and while this isn't Brazil's best possible squad, it does have plenty of big names, including Neymar (Santos), Thiago Silva (Milan), Alexandre Pato (Milan), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Hulk (Porto), David Luiz (Chelsea), Sandro (Tottenham), Rafael (Manchester United) and Lucas Moura (São Paulo). Many of them played on Saturday in Brazil's 3-1 friendly defeat of Denmark in Hamburg, but I'm hoping coach Mano Menezes decides not to rest too many of them on Wednesday. After all, Brazil will have nearly a week off before its next game against Mexico on June 3 near Dallas.
• Will the U.S. go toe to toe with the five-time World Cup champs? Klinsmann has acknowledged that the U.S. can't play as freewheeling against global powerhouses as it does against Scotland or CONCACAF sides, but don't look for the Yanks to be overly defensive, either. The big question is whether U.S. star Clint Dempsey will return to the lineup after missing the Scotland game with a groin strain. Dempsey trained on Sunday and is aiming to be back for Wednesday's marquee matchup. If Dempsey does play, how will that change the U.S.'s formation and player selection? If Klinsmann wants to go for it, he'd keep José Torres on the field, drop on of his three central mids from Scotland (perhaps Maurice Edu), and change from a 4-3-2-1 to a 4-2-3-1 like this:
Tim Howard; Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson; Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley; Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, José Torres; Hérculez Gómez.
If Klinsmann wants to include Dempsey but be a bit more conservative, he could stick with the 4-3-2-1, keep the three central mids (Edu, Jones, Bradley) and drop Torres. I do think we'll see Oguchi Onyewu back in the central defense now that he has been back in camp for a few days, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Gómez get a start up top. Jozy Altidore just joined the U.S. camp on Monday, owing to his club AZ Alkmaar's refusal to release him before the FIFA international window, and it seems unlikely he'd start so soon thereafter. Perhaps youngster Terrence Boyd could get the nod instead, but Gómez was prolific enough for Mexican champ Santos last season that Klinsmann may give him the chance here.
• Playing Brazil so often is a great thing for the United States. Think about how often the U.S. has the chance to compete against the world's most successful national team. Wednesday's game will be the fifth matchup between the U.S. and Brazil going back to 2007, a slate of games that includes the U.S.'s epic 3-2 loss to Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup final. (Donovan and Dempsey both scored memorable goals in that game to build a 2-0 lead before Brazil's stunning comeback.) While the U.S. has no fear factor with Brazil anymore, it's clear that if you aspire to improve on a global level you have to take on the best teams as often as possible. My colleague Thiago Dias of Globo Esporte online tells me he expects this will be Brazil's starting lineup:
Jefferson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Juan, Marcelo; Sandro, Rômulo, Oscar, Lucas Moura; Neymar, Hulk.
It may just be a friendly, but as friendlies go it doesn't get much bigger than this.