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Sunday August 25th, 2019 9:04PM

Neymer, Firmino lead Brazil over US 2-0 in exhibition

By The Associated Press
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Neymar and Brazilian teammates showed young American players how large a gap they must overcome.

Roberto Firmino scored in the 11th minute off a cross from Douglas Costa, who burst down a flank past 21-year-old left back Antonee Robinson. Neymar added a penalty kick in the 44th minute after a debatable foul call, and Brazil overwhelmed the rebuilding U.S. 2-0 in an exhibition Friday night.

"I don't think we were afraid. I think just maybe a little nervous here and there," interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan said. "There could have been a situation where maybe the shoulder slump, the confidence, was blown."

The U.S. has two wins, two losses and three ties under Sarachan, who took over last October after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup. New general manager Earnie Stewart said this week a permanent coach will be announced later this year.

Just 32,469 attended the match at MetLife Stadium, a possible site of the 2026 World Cup final, and Brazilian supporters outnumbered Americans by about a 10-1 margin. When Brazil beat the U.S. 2-0 in August 2010 shortly after the venue opened, the game drew 77,223.

In its first match since a quarterfinal loss to Belgium at the World Cup, Brazil improved to 18-1 against the U.S. — with 11 straight wins since a 1-0 defeat in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Selecao has outscored the Americans 41-12, including 17-2 since the U.S. took a two-goal lead in the 2009 Confederations Cup final — a game Brazil won 3-2.

"In the first half we didn't defend, press as a team," center back John Brooks said. "It was like one at a time. And when you press a team one at a time like Brazil, they play easily out of the back."

Playing in New Jersey for the first time since losing to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena last September, the U.S. did not force a save from goalkeeper Alisson until the 71st minute. All U.S. starters were 25 and under and the average of 23 years 117 days was under 24 for the fifth straight match.

Midfielders Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Wil Trapp struggled for possession. The Americans were missing their top player, 19-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic, who has an unspecified muscle injury.

"If we had Christian tonight, I can't say we'd have the ball 40 more percent of the time," Sarachan said.

Bobby Wood, the lone forward in a 4-1-4-1 formation, rarely had touches, and Sarachan said Pulisic and Jozy Altidore remain among the top American attackers.

"We don't have a plethora of forwards in our pool," Sarachan said. "That's an area where we still need to improve that position."

Brazil went ahead when Costa beat Robinson, and Firmino split defenders Matt Miazga and Brooks and with his right foot directed the ball past goalkeeper Zack Steffen for his eighth goal in 26 international appearances.

"I probably overthought that I had to get too tight to him, and by the time I had settled my feet, he'd already made his mind to go and I didn't reallt have a chance of catching him," Robinson said.

Neymar converted a penalty kick after the questionable call by Mexican referee Fernando Guerrero, the fourth official for U.S. loss at Trinidad and Tobago last October that eliminated the Americans in World Cup. Fabinho played a 1-2 with Firmino and cut into the penalty area. Trapp appeared to give him the slightest of pushes, and Fabinho tumbled past Brooks.

Neymar stutter-stepped in his run-up, Steffen dove to his right and the striker softly kicked the ball in the other way for his 58th goal in 91 international appearances, third in Brazilian history behind Pele (77) and Ronaldo (62). Neymar scored at MetLife eight years ago in his international debut.

Steffen kicked out his left foot in the 51st minute to save Neymar's 6-yard shot off a pass from Costa, and Miazga cleared the ball off the line. The best U.S. chance was McKennie's left-footed shot off a Kellyn Acosta pass in the 66th, which went wide.

"The ability to connect passes was a difficult chore for our group early in the game," Sarachan said, "and when you concede possession against a team like Brazil, it makes it hard. You do a lot of chasing."

Notes: Sarachan will run the team for Tuesday's friendly against Mexico in Nashville, Tennessee, and likely for exhibitions on Oct. 12 against Colombia at Tampa, Florida, and versus Peru four days later at East Hartford, Connecticut. The U.S. also plays England and Italy in November. ... The temporary grass field installed over the artificial turf had some brown patches and was immediately removed to prepare for the New York Giants' opener Sunday against Jacksonville. ... The section of American Outlaws behind one goal held up photos of Clint Dempsey before the match in honor of the U.S. star, who announced his retirement on Aug. 29. ... Brooks will head back to Wolfsburg and miss Tuesday's game. ... Arthur made his Brazil debut in the 60th minute, Lucas Paqueta in the 70th, Richarlison in the 75th and Everton in the 80th. Dede entered in the 80th, his first appearance in five years.

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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