EletiofeUSMNT stands up to Brazil, and makes a stabilizing...

USMNT stands up to Brazil, and makes a stabilizing statement ahead of Copa América

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The U.S. men’s national team arrived in Orlando on the brink of crisis. It will leave with its chest puffed and pride intact, on stable ground as it strides toward Copa América.

It arrived amid outcry, and pressure, in the wake of a 5-1 trouncing by Colombia.

It responded with a statement: a 1-1 draw with Brazil, “a huge bounce-back performance,” as goalkeeper Matt Turner said postgame.

It was not, of course, the signature win they’ve craved. It was far from perfect, and if not for Turner’s 11 saves, interpretations and narratives might be different. Brazil had twice as many shots (25) and nearly twice the quality chances. Brazil was better; Brazil is better. That hasn’t changed.

But the U.S. battled.

It proved — to itself and the world — that the post-Colombia freak-out was perhaps a bit excessive.

“What we did today,” Turner said on TNT, “can sort of put that [Colombia game] to bed.”

U.S. defender Joe Scally, left, tries to slow down Brazil forward Vinicius Junior (7) as he moves to the goal during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

U.S. defender Joe Scally, left, tries to slow down Brazil forward Vinicius Junior (7) as he moves to the goal during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

It proved, yet again, that it can compete with the very best teams in international soccer. What it still hasn’t done, in five years under head coach Gregg Berhalter, is beat one of them. But, like against England at the World Cup, it crept close to a win, close enough to maintain confidence that, someday, it will.

“We feel like we made a little step,” Berhalter said. “It’s not a huge step, but it’s a little step.”

And, most importantly, it was a collective one.

It was emphatic, not in scoreline but in tone. The USMNT had crumbled against Colombia. Players knew, as Chris Richards said: “One thing we really need to change is our mentality.” They left little doubt that they had in Wednesday’s opening exchanges.

First, Yunus Musah rattled the crossbar with a 30-yard blast.

Next, Christian Pulisic, Captain America, drove inside and unleashed a shot. A few minutes later, Pulisic hacked down Brazilian winger Raphinha, the first of several feisty fouls that raised the temperature of the game.

Pulisic was the U.S. catalyst. He scored one goal, with a shrewd free kick; he nearly got a second after halftime that would have put the Americans ahead.

Turner, though, was probably the man of the match. His 11 saves were the most by a USMNT goalkeeper since Tim Howard’s 16 at the 2014 World Cup against Belgium. And they were emblematic of the U.S. response, because Turner’s night began as his weekend ended.

The USMNT’s undisputed No. 1 was poor against Colombia. His rust, after a half season on the bench at Nottingham Forest, appeared to show. Then, in the 17th minute, with the ball at his feet, he chose a senseless pass, which Brazil intercepted. Seconds later, he was beaten by Rodrygo; the U.S. was behind; and Turner’s confidence seemed shaken.

Over the 70 minutes that followed, though, he built it back up, brick by brick, save by save.

“He stayed calm,” Berhalter said postgame. “And that’s the most important thing.”

The USMNT, in general, could’ve buckled under the occasional Brazilian barrage. Rodrygo, Vinicius Jr. and then Endrick were all menacing. But Joe Scally stood tall against his second straight elite winger. Gio Reyna threw shoulders at Brazilian midfielders as they released passes. Tim Ream, 36 and a half-step slow, used his guile and tranquility to steady the USMNT by maintaining possession in his own penalty box. This, all around, from players young and old, was a grown-up performance.

With the Copa América approaching — it begins June 20; the USMNT’s first game is June 23 vs. Bolivia — plenty of concerns remain. Ream and Richards looked vulnerable to pace. The back six were too often caught on the ball in perilous areas. Antonee Robinson, for a second consecutive game, looked somewhere between gassed and absent. Ricardo Pepi, who started at striker, hardly staked his claim to a place in the 11.

But a draw with Brazil — only the second U.S. result in 20 matchups between these teams — was a statement: That this USMNT, on its day, can go toe to toe with giants.

And it was a necessary reminder ahead of a massive tournament: “We know we have a strong team,” Scally said on TNT. “We know we can make a deep run.”

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