BOSTON — Brazil … is Brazil.
It’s what you might say about something that has always been the accepted gold standard but maybe isn’t quite at the height of its powers these days. Like: La Scala … is La Scala. Or: The Russian Tea Room … is the Russian Tea Room. Or: Will Ferrell … is Will Ferrell.
Brazil, the U.S.’s foe in a friendly in Boston on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, UDN), is still the five-time World Cup champion—albeit the five-time champion that lost 7–1 to Germany in last year’s World Cup semis (on home soil) and fell to Paraguay in this year’s Copa América quarterfinals.
“Brazil … is Brazil,” said U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, who joined the team on Sunday and trained for the first time on Monday. “We can talk about how their World Cup ended in a disappointing way for them last summer. We can talk about Copa América not having gone perfectly. But again, Brazil is Brazil—in terms of their reputation but also in terms of their quality, the number of players they’re able to draw from.
“As always, we have respect for them, but respect and nothing more,” Bradley added. “We’ll step on the field look to see if we can make it a real game.”
It’s a Brazil squad that has several big names: Neymar, the national hero who helped lead Barcelona to the Champions League title; Kaká, the former World Player of the Year who’s still potent for Orlando City; and Douglas Costa, the electrifying newcomer to Bayern Munich. There are others, too, like David Luiz, Marquinhos, Willian, Fernandinho, Firmino, Lucas Moura and Hulk.
If you’re a U.S. team that’s preparing for next month’s showdown against Mexico in the Rose Bowl for a spot in the Confederations Cup, Brazil will do just fine for your final tune-up. And for the U.S., which has been training exclusively in a 4-4-2, it will almost certainly mark the return of Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the central midfield partnership. Bradley is back after skipping the win over Peru on Friday to play for Toronto the next day, while Jones has returned after missing most of the 2015 national team schedule with groin issues.
“[Jones] and I have a very good relationship on the field and off the field,” said Bradley. “We’ve played in a lot of different ways. We’ve played games where we play more side-by-side and we share the work in terms of attacking and defending. We’ve played games where Jurgen [Klinsmann] or my dad has asked me to play a little deeper and allow him to move around a little bit more. We’ve played games where he’s sat deeper and I’ve been the one in front of him moving around more.”
That last scenario, with Bradley higher up the field, is the more likely option for Tuesday. What Klinsmann decides to do with the rest of his lineup is a bit less certain, but here’s one man’s guess:
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan. The Polar Bear, who got the nickname long ago in South Africa from teammates Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo, honoring his lack of a tan, had a monster double-save against Peru that keyed the U.S.’s 2–1 comeback victory.
Back line: Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Tim Ream. Lots of possibilities here, but Cameron stood out at right back in the second half against Peru and could get the start this time.
Midfield: Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Gyasi Zardes. With Bradley returning, Klinsmann could have a decision to make between Bedoya and DeAndre Yedlin at right midfield. With six subs available, he could split it right down the middle.
Zardes, meanwhile, has become the “January Camp Revelation”™ of 2015, playing in all but one U.S. game this year. Jones, in particular, has sounded impressed, calling Zardes “a beast” after the Peru win. “Neymar doesn’t know Zardes right now,” Jones said on Monday, “but maybe he makes a good game and people say, ‘This kid is really good.’”
Front line: Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore. Instead of Wood, Klinsmann could go with Aron Jóhannsson (who’s been a bit banged up) or the newly arrived Jordan Morris. But Wood seems a bit more likely. In the wake of his two-goal second half on Friday, Altidore has been drawing plaudits from Klinsmann ever since.
“[Altidore]’s simply physically on a completely different level than when he came in for the Gold Cup,” Klinsmann said on Monday. “He was just not there [in July]. He worked himself back. He tried hard, did extra shifts with his club and when he came in now you could see that. He’s fresh. He’s explosive. He’s hungry. And because of that he’s in a better state of mind.”
NOTES FROM CAMP
• With the U.S.-Mexico game taking place next month at the same time as the Olympic qualifying tournament, Klinsmann has a choice to make on Brooks, Yedlin and Morris. Should he include them with the senior team for Mexico or with the Under-23 team (which hopes to qualify for the first time since 2008)?
“We haven’t made the decision yet on Jordan if he joins us toward the Mexico game or he goes with the Olympic team, but definitely John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin will be with the senior team,” Klinsmann said on Monday, adding that he called in Morris once he learned that Clint Dempsey would not be joining the team from Seattle.
• Jóhannsson, who grew up in Iceland and developed in that country, said he was ecstatic about the nation’s qualification for Euro 2016, the first time it has qualified for a major tournament. “I thought it was crazy,” he said. “The whole country went sideways. I don’t know what it was like because it was the first time I’ve seen anything like this.
“It’s such a huge achievement,’ Jóhannsson continued. “I don’t think the world really knows how huge it is. This is a country of 330,000. They not only qualified for the Euro, but they’ve done amazing. They beat Holland home and away.”
Jóhannsson, who just signed with Germany’s Werder Bremen, said he’s excited to play with another new signing, Peru’s Claudio Pizarro. “He’s a huge player, a legend in the soccer world,” Jóhannsson said. “To be able to train with him and learn from him is going to be huge.”
• With 29 career international goals, Altidore is now one goal away from becoming the fifth U.S. player to hit 30. Brian McBride is currently No. 4 with 30 in his career. Bradley will be honored for his 100th cap, which he earned on July 7 in the 2–1 Gold Cup win over Honduras.