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USMNT Makes Positive Strides In Final Copa América Preparation

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As U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Matt Turner prepared to answer questions in the postmatch mixed zone on Wednesday, he encountered United States legend Kasey Keller. The former USMNT keeper congratulated Turner on his heroics in the 1-1 draw against Brazil.

After Keller departed, Turner remarked, “That was cool. What a guy.”

Their brief exchange was fitting, as both now share the rare distinction of avoiding defeat against Brazil. Keller’s stellar performance against the Seleção in the 1998 Gold Cup semifinals nearly single-handedly led the U.S. to a 1-0 win. The stunned look on Brazilian World Cup winner Romario’s face, as Keller made save after save, remains memorable.

On Wednesday, it was Turner’s turn to shine. Despite a wayward pass in the 17th minute that helped set up Rodrygo’s goal for Brazil, Turner rebounded with 10 saves, including a critical stop on Rodrygo in the 74th minute. The U.S.’s record against Brazil now stands at 1-18-1, highlighting the rarity of such a result.

Contrast this with last Saturday’s performance against Colombia, where the U.S. suffered a 5-1 defeat. Turner seemed overwhelmed, and his struggle for minutes and form at Nottingham Forest this season raised doubts about his starting role. For now, he has quieted those concerns.

Turner’s performance mirrored that of the team; there were flaws, but it was a significant improvement over Saturday, marked by increased resolve and execution. Christian Pulisic delivered the equalizer with a powerful free kick in the 26th minute and nearly won the match in the 68th minute, only to be denied by Brazil keeper Alisson.

Brenden Aaronson also came close after a setup by Pulisic 15 minutes later. The defense, heavily criticized after the Colombia match, bent but didn’t break against attackers like Vinícius Júnior and Raphinha.

The team’s eagerness to do the hard work was key to securing the unlikely result.

The U.S. also used its collective intelligence. The team and manager Gregg Berhalter have faced criticism for insisting on playing the ball out from the back, a strategy that backfired against Colombia. On Wednesday, there was a greater willingness to hit long passes and fight for second balls, especially from goal kicks.

International tournaments, and the friendlies preceding them, often lead to overreactions. The U.S. isn’t as bad as it appeared against Colombia, but it’s also risky to assume that a draw against Brazil means all is well. The U.S. midfield still requires work.

One should consider the U.S. team’s curious history under Berhalter, delivering poor performances ahead of major tournaments. In 2019, before the Gold Cup, the U.S. lost preparation games to Jamaica and Venezuela.

Before the 2022 World Cup, there was a heavy 3-0 defeat to Japan, followed by a dull 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia. Despite these setbacks, the U.S. went on to have successful tournaments. This may explain Berhalter’s muted reaction to this match, even as he praised his team’s teamwork and intensity.

It’s a stretch to say the U.S. is at its peak, but there is a sense of increased momentum not seen after the Colombia result. The manner of the result against Brazil provides hope. The U.S. was once notoriously difficult to play against, a trait not consistently seen in the last decade. That it resurfaced on this evening is a positive sign and will be needed in the coming weeks.

Now the Copa America awaits. Group C, where the U.S. will face Bolivia, Panama, and Uruguay, should be manageable. However, the U.S. cannot afford to assume easy victories. This lesson from the last two friendlies is crucial. It’s better to learn it now than during the tournament itself. For now, the U.S. can enjoy a rare positive result against one of the world’s best.

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