As Copa América approaches, the pressure is building on USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Christian Pulisic;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Christian Pulisic</a>’s goal secured the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:USMNT;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">USMNT</a>’s first-ever draw against <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Brazil;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Brazil</a>. </span><span>Photograph: Gregg Newton/AFP/Getty Images</span>

The US bounce back big

Shame is still a potent emotion in US soccer. It’s hard to believe the USMNT could have conjured a performance as furious and focused on Wednesday had they not been humiliated in their previous match a few days earlier and resolved to make amends.

So this was an enthralling 1-1 draw with Brazil, brought to you thanks to last Saturday’s 5-1 defeat to Colombia. The imprint of the collapse in Maryland was stamped into the spirit of this performance in Orlando.

Intensity at a grade rarely seen in a friendly on the eve of a tournament, when avoiding injury is a priority, was evident from the start. Yunus Musah thumped the crossbar from long distance after four minutes then Christian Pulisic drove at the defense, forcing Alisson into a save.

It compelled a strong Brazil team that looked as if they would have preferred a more mellow Copa América tune-up to raise their game in the Florida heat. As against Colombia, the US conceded an early goal, to Rodrygo; this time they did not cave by committing glaring errors under pressure from some of the world’s most electrifying forwards. Yet there were only two changes to the starting lineup from last weekend, with Ricardo Pepi in for Folarin Balogun upfront and Musah replacing Johnny Cardoso in midfield. And again, the US’s key playmaker, Gio Reyna, was relatively quiet.

“It’s obviously a huge bounce back performance for us,” goalkeeper Matt Turner told reporters, a couple of days after he had apologized to fans for the Colombia loss. “We really stared in the face of adversity and we were able to bounce back a few days later. And in tournament play that’s so, so important because not every result, not every call is going to go your way.”

Setting a template

This was not far off from a realistic best-case scenario for the US in any match against one of the planet’s top teams: absorb plenty of attacks and ride some luck (Vinicius Junior was lively though wasteful for Brazil) but grab a set-piece goal and even create enough chances to sneak a winner.

Brazil had 61% of the possession and 25 shots yet the US might still have won, with Christian Pulisic missing a terrific chance to finish off a move in the second half and substitute Brenden Aaronson also going close. It was the kind of inspired night that has you imagining that the US could upset one of the favorites at a major tournament, whether in the imminent Copa América or the 2026 World Cup.

After falling well below the expected level against Colombia, the US recovered impressively to end an 11-game losing streak against Brazil that dated back 26 years and secure a first-ever draw between the nations.

Ambition pays off

The US weren’t trying to play safe, easy passes, and they weren’t afraid to give up possession, even against such talented opponents. By their direct, aggressive approach, the US wanted to send a message, as much to themselves as to Brazil. The statement? The last match was an aberration. We can go toe-to-toe with opponents of this caliber.

That attitude created the equalizer, with Pulisic fouled on the edge of the box after boldly driving towards goal. Then, in a coup de théâtre that looked like it was conceived on the training ground, Musah and Tim Weah darted across Alisson’s line of sight just before Pulisic struck the ball, perhaps fleetingly distracting the goalkeeper and delaying his dive for a shot that the Milan forward drilled superbly into the corner.

That mentality was also present at the other end of the field, where the US played the ball out from the back with composure. Nothing unusual for good teams, of course, but a courageous approach against a side as potent and ready to pounce as Brazil. Especially given how slapdash the passing was against Colombia in the heaviest defeat of the Berhalter era and the first by more than a two-goal margin since 2019.

No one was calmer amid the maelstrom than Tim Ream, the 36-year-old center back who played the whole game and found himself up against Endrick, the 17-year-old prodigy who came off the bench in the second half.

Turner returns to top form

Subverting the conventional wisdom about playing time and rust, Turner was in better form for his country when he was a back-up at club level than when he had a run of first-team football. A star for the US in Qatar, after moving from Arsenal to Nottingham Forest in 2023 for some sustained action his performances declined. Not to the degree that US head coach Gregg Berhalter needed to drop him, but to the point that observers often found themselves wondering after a goal: could he have done better with that? Perhaps it was a question of confidence more than a need for consistent starts.

That only one of Brazil’s 12 on-target efforts (twice as many as Colombia, incidentally) rippled the net was thanks to some below-par shooting but also to Turner, who had an outstanding night. True, Brazil’s goal came after his risky kick towards Musah was intercepted. After that, Turner, who’ll be 30 later this month, made a string of fine stops. Against Colombia he had sunk to his knees in despair. His rapid distribution in the second half helped set up chances, too.

Not only were his 11 saves the most in his international career, they were the largest number for a USMNT goalkeeper since Tim Howard’s legendary 16-stop performance in a losing cause against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup, which earned the Secretary of Defense praise from the actual President. With Joe Biden unavailable late on Wednesday, Turner had to settle for being named Michelob Ultra Man of the Match.

It’s been educational

The outcome and display eased some of the scrutiny on Berhalter … at least until he names his Copa squad later this week. If the coach is to shoulder a share of the blame for the defensive debacle in the late stages of the Colombia lashing, then he merits a portion of the credit for one of the best nights of his 71-match reign.

“We feel like we made a little step,” a characteristically circumspect Berhalter told reporters. “It’s not a huge step, but it’s a little step to be able to play against an amazingly talented Brazil team and bend but not break and I think give them problems, as well.”

As the US tiptoe into a tournament that will act as a referendum on his managerial ability, it would be unwise to obsess too deeply about the meaning of exhibition games, yet also wrong to dismiss these two fixtures as mere rehearsals: they could prove more revealing about the team’s direction and 2026 prospects than their opening Copa game on 23 June against Bolivia, who are ranked 85th by Fifa – in the same neighborhood as Gabon, Zambia and Luxembourg.

The US’s previous game, in March, was a 2-0 win over Mexico in the final of the Concacaf Nations League. But victories over one of the worst Mexico teams in generations are a devalued currency. The El Tri yardstick isn’t as accurate a measuring tool as it once was.

That makes the absence of a signature win over European or South American opposition more glaring, and every opportunity to claim one more significant, trophy or no trophy. There hasn’t been such a victory since 2015, four years before Berhalter took control, when the US beat the Netherlands and Germany in friendlies. This game, like the goalless draw against England at Qatar 2022, was another creditable close call in that search for a signature win.

Panama, who the US face in their second group game in Atlanta on 27 June, are familiar Concacaf foes. But the concluding group fixture in Kansas City on 1 July against Uruguay – who beat Brazil and Argentina last year during World Cup qualifying – will be instructive. And after the deflation and elation of the past few days, no one on the US roster can be in any doubt about what it will take to get a result against one of the finest teams in South America.