Altered states

Upcoming friendly with Brazil is one of the last tests before WC qualifiers

Originally Published: May 16, 2012
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine
Altered StateIllustrations by Alberto SevesoBy pushing the envelope physically, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is laying the foundation for a more proactive playing style.

THE WEIGHT OF THE MOMENT was not lost on Jurgen Klinsmann as the coach stood on the legendary pitch of the Marassi in Genoa, Italy. Watching his reimagined U.S. national team celebrate a 1-0 win over Italy in February, he proclaimed: "It is historic for us to beat a team of this caliber. It is a great win." Indeed, the Yanks had just snapped a 10-game, 78-year losing streak to Italy. But now, heading into a critical string of matches, Klinsmann and his charges can't afford to look back. With a friendly at home against fully loaded Brazil on May 30, followed by the first two 2014 World Cup qualifiers in June (against Antigua and Barbuda, and at Guatemala), that historic win is just that: history. Klinsmann still must tackle the same problems the U.S. always faces, primarily hostile regional foes who turn CONCACAF qualifiers into long, hard slogs and a talent gap when matched against the world's giants.

High-profile friendlies like the Italy and Brazil matches often can foretell the fortunes of a team in transition. In 2008, a 0-0 draw with Argentina indicated that then-coach Bob Bradley's young squad was ready for its first World Cup qualifiers -- and it won six straight. Last year's 4-0 drubbing against Spain forecasted the defensive struggles that haunted the team in the Gold Cup and led to Bradley's demise.

As the Brazil match approaches, it's unclear how -- or whom -- the U.S. will line up.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.