Home > Confederations Cup 2009, Defenders, Forwards, Goalkeepers, Midfielders, MNT Lineups, Referees, Tournament Statistics > Brazil’s Victory: What the U.S. Did Wrong, Right

Brazil’s Victory: What the U.S. Did Wrong, Right

In the coming days, much will be written about the U.S. team, its gritty performance, its improved attitude, and its ability to atone (to a small degree) for its poor group-stage performance against Brazil.  Indeed, it was a fine performance that should get American fans excited about the World Cup.

What the U.S. Did Wrong

But the U.S. fell victim to a couple of its old problems.  First, the U.S. once again allowed its opponent to put an almost endless stream of shots on goal — 31 shots (13 on goal) — that the U.S. could not match — 9 shots (4 on goal).  Second, even when the U.S. had possession of the ball, it kept the ball in front of its own goal for too long:  16% of its total possession was spent directly in front of Tim Howard.  Third, the U.S. allowed Brazil to play its game — passing at will.

The passing numbers are so ridiculous that they merit in-depth discussion:

Before the match, we implored the U.S. team to (a) pass more often and (b) do whatever it could to keep Brazil from passing freely.  The U.S. failed to do either.  Compare the statistics between our two matches against Brazil:

Group Stage

  • U.S. — 204 complete/327 passes (62%)
  • Brazil — 377 complete/498 passes (76%)


  • U.S. — 198 complete/337 passes (59%)
  • Brazil — 479 complete/608 passes (79%)

Notwithstanding the closer score (3-2 instead of 3-0), the U.S. team performed worse in the Final than it did in the first match:  completing fewer passes and allowing Brazil to complete over 100 more.  In fact, at the half, the U.S. had only attempted 159 passes and completed a paltry 88 (55%).  Brazil on the other hand, attempted 309 and completed 242 (78%).

Brazil completed almost 50 more passes in the first half than the U.S. did the entire match.  And when you compare the top passing combinations, the problem with the U.S. approach is obvious.  The U.S.’s top combination, Donovan and Feilhaber, passed the ball among themselves 11 times in the entire game but Brazil’s best, Maicon and Gilberto Silva, passed the ball 42 times among themselves.  Even Brazil’s sixth-most prolific passing combination (Kaka and Maicon) passed the ball 18 times among themselves.

Now compare the U.S.’s performance to that of South Africa, holding Brazil to a single, late goal.

Semi-Final: Brazil v. South Africa

  • South Africa — Completed 354 of 458 passes (77%)
  • Brazil — Completed 409 of 515 passes (78%)

South Africa not only attempted 121 more passes than the U.S., it completed its passes at a 20% higher rate than the U.S. did.

When you pass so infrequently and poorly, you spend more time covering ground:  the U.S. team ran over 3.1 miles more than Brazil did.

Best Passers:

  • Clark – 75%
  • Dempsey – 71%
  • Klejstan – 71%
  • Donovan – 65%

Disappointing Passers:

  • Feilhaber – 61% (in the previous Brazil match, he completed 78% of his passes)
  • Davies – 26% (72% against Spain)
  • DeMerit – 50% (69% in first match against Brazil)
  • Onyewu – 62% (79% against Brazil in group stage)
  • Howard – 44% (61% in first match against Brazil)

In terms of substitutions, Conor Casey was a questionable decision.  Casey’s passing has been poor all tournament (he had a 31% completion rate coming into the Final).  And with a confident Brazil team, the U.S. needed a spark off the bench:  something that Casey has not shown for the national squad.  With Torres and Adu on the bench, Bradley had offensive-minded players (one of whom has traditionally been very good at (a) getting the ball into the penalty area and (b) taking good corners and free kicks.)  When you need one goal, you bring on someone with the pace, creativity and desire to make it happen.  If you have been following Adu at all, he is chomping at the bit to play.  I do not think any American would have come off the bench hungrier than Adu.  And as we mentioned before, when Adu comes on as a substitute, the other team has not outscored the U.S. in 183 minutes since January 1, 2008.  So, you bring on a guy who can hold the score and put pressure on Brazil.

What the U.S. Did Right

Obviously, the two first-half goals against Brazil were huge for the U.S.  But, by the end of the first half, Brazil had recovered and were pressing.  And Brazil’s goal within one minute of the resumption of play was way too early.  A determined Brazil team is going to score goals.  But they should not be allowed to score them within the first minute of the second half.

Bringing on Sacha for Benny may be criticized but it makes sense statistically.  Only Onyewu completed a higher percentage of passes in the first match against Brazil than Kljestan (74%).  Sacha had good pace (28.14 km/hr) and tackled better and more often than Feilhaber (even with significantly fewer minutes).

The Bornstein – Altidore substitution also made sense.  Altidore was not winning races for the ball — in one instance in the attacking third, Altidore watched an errant Brazil touch slowly roll out of bounds while his marker chased after it and kept it in play.  And while an attacking  midfielder could have worked, Bornstein played solid defense and was one of the team’s most frequent and best passers throughout the tournament.  And he did his job completing 100% of his passes.

Beyond that there is not much statistically exciting about the U.S. performance, which is a little surprising given that the team held a 2-0 lead at the half.

A Quick Note About Hansson:

Today’s referee did a good job of allowing the teams to play.  Early on, he seemed to only call fouls on headers and asserted himself early with a couple yellow cards (19′, 25′, 36′).  But he did not make any decisions that improperly affected the outcome of the match.  Toward the end, it appeared that Brazil’s defenders got a little more leeway than the U.S. defenders did.  Still, after so many matches where referees made significant impacts on the matches, Hansson faded into the background enough that the teams were able to decide the championship among themselves.


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