- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2012

For all the growth the U.S. national team has experienced under Jurgen Klinsmann in recent months, piecing together a five-game winning streak while at times brandishing an attractive, free-flowing style of play, it’s still a work in progress. And a world power such as Brazil is not kind to unfinished products.

That much was evident Wednesday night at FedEx Field, when the 67,619 in attendance watched 20-year-old phenom Neymar and the Samba Boys put on an offensive clinic en route to a 4-1 win over the United States.

After the match, Klinsmann pondered whether the next lesson he needs to teach should involve instilling his players with more of a mean streak.

“We need to get an edge more nastier,” Klinsmann said. “We’re maybe a little bit still naive. Maybe we don’t want to hurt people. But that’s what you’ve got to do. We’ve got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated.”

The U.S. coach was none too pleased to see Neymar, a forward already proclaimed by Brazilian legend Pele to be the world’s top player, have his way with the U.S. back line, notching a goal and two assists. True to Brazil’s attack-minded philosophy, defenders Thiago Silva and Marcelo also got in on the scoring act, as did substitute Alexandre Pato.

Herculez Gomez, a journeyman striker making his first start in nearly two years, tallied the U.S. goal in a match that snapped the team’s lengthy winning streak and dropped it to 1-16-1 all time against Brazil, winner of five World Cups.

The game was the second of three friendlies the U.S. will play leading up to its first 2014 World Cup qualifiers: June 8 against Antigua & Barbuda and June 12 at Guatemala. After a 5-1 trouncing of Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, the Americans were brought down to earth by a young but talented Brazilian squad.

“We’ll bounce back,” said midfielder-forward Clint Dempsey, who logged 34 minutes in his return from a groin injury. “The most important thing is World Cup qualifying games.”

The match was not without its silver linings for the home side. Goalkeeper Tim Howard made a slew of stellar saves to keep the U.S. in the game. Fabian Johnson, a 24-year-old German-American, delivered his third straight standout performance at left back. And Gomez made the most of his opportunity.

While the U.S. approached the match with forward-thinking vigor atypical of the more defensive approach many a team has deployed against the Brazilians, it couldn’t cash in on a slew of chances.

“We’re evolving, we’re getting getter,” midfielder Landon Donovan said. “But you can see that when you go to this level, things get harder, and it happens faster. Tonight was kind of a night when both teams created a few chances, and they finished theirs and we didn’t. And that kind of told the story of the game.”

Brazil went ahead just 12 minutes in. As Leandro Damiao set his sights on goal, the striker’s shot deflected off the arm of U.S. center back Oguchi Onyewu. The referee pointed to the spot — a borderline call that left Klinsmann plenty frustrated — and Neymar converted the penalty kick.

Fourteen minutes later, the visitors made it 2-0 as Thiago Silva escaped Onyewu’s mark and headed a Neymar corner kick past Howard.

Moments before halftime, the U.S. was given life. Latching onto a loose ball just outside the Brazilian box, midfielder Michael Bradley played in the overlapping Johnson, who hit a near-post cross that Gomez nodded home.

“You’re 2-0 down, so you’re running after Brazil, which is very difficult because then you open up spaces,” Klinsmann said. “I think the team reacted very well. They fought themselves back in the game.”

The momentum, though, didn’t last long, as Brazil restored its two-goal lead seven minutes after the break. Attacking the U.S. on the counter, Neymar ran onto a through ball from Hulk before finding Marcelo in front of goal for an easy finish.

Pato capped Brazil’s outburst in the 87th minute, taking a cross from Marcelo and burying an angled shot past Howard. The strike, which drew calls for offside from the Americans, unfolded moments after Onyewu struck the crossbar with a header at the other end.

“It’s bad,” Howard said. “It’s not the end of the world, but it’s never nice when you do your job and you screw up. And 4-1 means we didn’t do a great job. So it hurts.”

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