The last time we saw the U.S. soccer team, pride of accomplishment was filling the center while disappointment charred the edges. BobBradley's men packed up and left South Africa with mixed feelings of a mission only partially accomplished.
So Tuesday's friendly outside New York is either an appreciation match of sorts, a semi-celebratory postscript to World Cup 2010 -- and one decorated with the best opponent U.S. Soccer could hope to find. Or it's simply the beginning to the next cycle as the Americans commence prep for qualification toward Brazil 2014.
From one perspective, it's a little hard to tell exactly which one as the U.S. coaching situation remains somewhat unsettled. Bradley is the man until someone at U.S. Soccer says otherwise, of course. But the federation must say something in the coming months as Bradley's four-year deal is up in December.
For now, maybe we can just enjoy what should be a splendid match in a glistening new ground. Tuesday's contest against Brazil (and its record five World Cup titles) unfolds inside the New Meadowlands Stadium, the $1.6 billion behemoth built adjacent to the old Giants Stadium. The new facility will primarily serve as the shared home to the NFL's Jets and Giants, but the soccer scene should be teeming Tuesday night. U.S. Soccer officials say 61,000 tickets had been sold as of Saturday afternoon, about 14,000 short of soccer capacity.
Bradley's selection of players suggests that the game is more about staging a big soccer event than planning and plotting out the next wave. And why shouldn't it be? After all, opportunities to face Brazil don't come along every day. So this is a chance to put a bunch of U.S. players on the field who were the toast of domestic soccer just six weeks ago.
Fifteen players called by Bradley were members of the World Cup team that won its group in South Africa but fell a few days later to Ghana in the second round.
The U.S. national team may look more like one in transition by the time two other fall friendlies roll around. Details haven't been announced but U.S. officials say two games in October are all but certain; one against Poland in the New York area is already listed by FIFA.
As for Tuesday's visitors, Brazil clearly is already a team in transition. The Selecao went soaring into South Africa carrying usual status as a tournament favorite; in this case the top co-favorite along with eventual winner Spain. So the side's quarterfinal elimination at the hands of eventual runner-up Netherlands was bitterly received. Making matters worse was Brazil's style and rugged approach under former manager Dunga. The country's outrageously demanding fans and media may have grumbled at Dunga's defensive-minded selections and tactics, but they grudgingly obliged so long as Brazil could still be the bully of the block.
Well, all that tepid approval unraveled spectacularly as the Dutch stunned Brazil in Port Elizabeth. Dunga resigned within hours and Mano Menezes has now taken over amid assurances to restore the swashbuckling verve of samba soccer kings past.
Dunga's successor begins his overhaul Tuesday. Menezes' roster for New York is heavier on World Cup 2014 prospects than South African holdovers. With prep for Copa America 2011 in Argentina and the 2012 London Olympics in the works, Menezes has included just four players from Dunga's World Cup roster.
So fans will get to see Barcelona defender Daniel Alves, Benfica midfielder Ramires, AC Milan defender Thiago Silva and Santos forward Robinho at The Meadowlands Stadium; all played in South Africa.
Otherwise, they'll be looking at future potential in players such as AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato and Santos man Neymar, the recent subject of a reported $27 million transfer offer from Chelsea.
Others notables from on the Brazilian roster include Real Madrid defender Marcelo, Manchester United defender Rafael da Silva, Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva.
As for the Americans, happenstance will subtract any chance to see two of the intriguing figures named to the original 18-man selection.
Schalke 04's Jermaine Jones, a Bundesliga vet and son of an American serviceman, was set for a U.S. debut. But coaches here and in Germany determined Jones, on the back end of an extended injury recovery, would be better served to remain with the Gelsenkirchen club. So while his U.S. debut must wait, this will do nothing to deter the mutual interest here, apparently. Jones successfully applied through FIFA in August of 2009 to change associations, so he is ineligible to play for any other country.
Nor will U.S. fans get to see Chad Marshall tested. The two-time MLS defender of the year continues to be a strong central presence for Eastern Conference-leading Columbus. But with a nine-day break ahead for his MLS club, followed by a hectic schedule from there, Marshall chose to remain in Ohio for extra rest.
The Americans begin arriving on Sunday, have one practice set for Monday and then go play. So there won't be a lot of time for reminiscing, nor for chatting about a few of the prominent players from South Africa not on Tuesday's roster.
Their absences are generally due to current club situations. Jay DeMerit and DaMarcus Beasley remain on the hunt for a club at the moment. Since they aren't in a camp and therefore aren't sufficiently fit, it makes no sense to have them play against a world heavyweight. Clint Dempsey is fighting for his place in the updated Fulham order under new coach Mark Hughes, so Bradley thought the attacker was best served to remain in London.