The list of Brazilian soccer legends began with the incomparable Pele, who as a 17-year-old led his country to the first of five World Cups in 1958. It has continued, nearly unabated, for a half-century.
Now, it's Neymar's star turn.
The 20-year-old striker, who in his short career has made a habit of scoring goals against the U.S. whenever the two countries meet, lived up to his advance billing Wednesday night with a goal and two assists in leading Brazil to a 4-1 victory over the Americans in front of 67,619 fans at FedEx Field.
Neymar's goal came on a penalty kick early in the first half to give Brazil a lead it would never relinquish. But it was his playmaking ability that separated Neymar from his American counterparts, and his team from a group of U.S. players looking to take another step forward under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Asked after only his second defeat since taking over the U.S. team 10 months ago, the former German national team star and coach said that the Americans "showed them too much respect" in the first 20 minutes, but added, "That's understandable. You're playing Brazil."
Though impressed with the magical foot skills of Neymar, a left winger who plays for the same Santos team Pele starred for decades ago, Klinsmann said of Brazil, "They have a very good group of young players coming through the ranks that [new coach] Mano Menezes is trying to build for the Olympics and the World Cup in 2014. It's a promising team, but also it's a beatable team."
Klinsmann and his players were still seething about an early penalty kick goal by Neymar that resulted from what he called a "questionable" hand ball against Maryland-raised central defender Oguchi Onyewu — replays showed the ball hit his left elbow — and Brazil's final goal that the Americans believed should have been an offsides call.
"We can take a lot of lessons out of that game," Klinsmann said. "We proved to them that we can play with them. We still have to improve, absolutely. There are areas we have to get closer to the people and push forward more. We've got to play smarter out of the back, we were a little too hectic in the first 15 minutes, but we got better and better."
The U.S. coach admitted that Onyewu got off to a shaky start, preventing the Americans from getting in much of an offensive flow until late in the first half. The U.S. finally scored in the waning seconds of the opening half on a play that began with midfielder Michael Bradley feeding overlapping defender Fabian Johnson, whose cross deflected off a Brazilian defender's body and then Hercules Gomez's head.
"I think we found a striker that is very mobile in Hercules, one that is a fighter and keeps defenders busy," Klinsmann said of the 30-year-old Gomez.
Gomez's goal, only his third in a late-blooming national team career, seemed to breathe some life in the American fans among the equally distributed crowd.
But the enthusiasm was quickly muted when Neymar, whose well-placed corner kick led to a Tiago Silva's header goal in the first half, found defender Marcelo in the 52nd minute. The U.S. had a couple of chances that were batted away by Brazil goalkeeper Rafael before Alexandre Pato, who earlier had clanged one off the post, put in the final goal in the 87th minute.
"We had a lot of chances against a world-class team," said Klinsmann, whose team was missing starting striker Jozy Altidor and also went without burgeoning English Premier League star Clint Dempsey until early in the second half. "But you have to put them in as well."
The defeat, coming a few days after the U.S. dominated Scotland in a 5-1 win in Jacksonville, Fla., left the Americans looking to lick their collective wounds before a final tuneup Sunday against Canada in Toronto and then the start of World Cup qualifying.
"We're all ticked off. We're all ticked off we lost 4-1," said Bradley. "But it was 2-1 at halftime and I thought we started the second half pretty well. They make a 3-1 and we pushed it. We had chance after chance to make it 3-2 and see what happens. Everybody can appreciate how good a football team they are and how skilled they are. In terms of athleticism and smarts, they're up there with the best."
Klinsmann said that the U.S. soccer team needs to get an "edge more nastier" before it takes on teams like Brazil again.
"Maybe we're a little bit still too naïve," Klinsmann said. "They don't want to hurt people. But that's what you've got to do. You've got to do that at the end of the day. Also, we have to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated."
One set of toes — belonging to a star in the making named Neymar — in particular.Copyright © 2015, CT Now