By Noah Davis
After taking a two-goal lead in the finals of the Confederations Cup, the United States Men's National Team conceded three scores in the second half and fell to Brazil 3-2. It was a good performance for the surprising Stars and Stripes, but ultimately the squad tired and couldn't contain the Samba Boys' onslaught. The Americans can hold their heads high, although they should have left South Africa with the winner's trophy.
The rock of the American defense was a wall for the first hour of the match. Howard made a number of huge saves and didn't concede any dangerous rebounds. He couldn't be faulted for any of the three goals, and deservedly won the Golden Glove trophy. The Everton goalkeeper was instrumental in helping the U.S withstand the Seleção's unrelenting pressure and arguably outplayed his counterpart, Júlio César. The American net is in good hands.
When the biggest complaint about a tournament is the incessant blaring of the vuvuzelas, you know things are going well. Next summer's World Cup will be a huge test for the African nation, but the trial run went fine. The stadiums looked good -- although they could use more fans -- and the proceedings went smoothly. No tournament will be perfect -- it's been said that countries aren't ready to host the World Cup until five minutes before the opening kickoff -- but fears of South Africa being woefully unprepared seem to be over, at least for the moment.
Let's give the American coach credit: He stuck to his guns and his players rewarded him by coming within a breath of winning the U.S.'s first FIFA championship. I don't love all the moves he made -- or didn't make -- but it has to be said that the team was ready for both Spain and Brazil. Bradley will certainly have critics going forward, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the Gold Cup roster, but he (eventually) got the most out of his boys in South Africa. That is cause for celebration.
While Jonthan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra barely made a mistake against Spain, they were not great against Brazil. With the Samba Boys throwing attacking wave after attacking wave at them, eventually the backline's deficiency was apparent. Jonathan Spector got lit up by Golden Ball winner Kaka on the second goal (and Bocanegra whiffed on the cross). The U.S. captain struggled at times on his positioning -- seeming to forget he was playing left back -- and DeMerit wasn't the wall he had been previously. The U.S. needed a great performance from everyone and they didn't get it.
The Chivas USA midfielder came on the 75th minute for Benny Feilhaber when the U.S. needed a lift. He didn't give it to his team. Kljestan ran hard, but ultimately did very little on the field. Bradley seems to think he can contribute, but I didn't see anything during the Confederations Cup that made me think this is the case. Kljestan needs a bit more seasoning before he's ready for a starting spot.
This is a bit harsh, as Bradley wasn't even on the field, but the U.S. desperately missed the hard-nosed, two-way midfielder in the latter stages of the match. This would have been a perfect game for the coach's son. Was Bradley's red card against Spain harsh? Yes, absolutely. Does that change the fact that the Americans need to stop diving in recklessly? Of course not. Here's hoping everyone learned this lesson in the Confed Cup, and will refrain from wild challenges next summer.
Noah Davis covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com.
For more on the Confederations Cup visit Goal.com's Confederations Cup page.