For a U.S. side trying to reinvent itself after a disappointing performance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa while learning a new style under former German national coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Wednesday's much-anticipated 8 p.m. exhibition against Brazil at FedEx Field could be another step forward.
Coming off a 5-1 win over Scotland last Saturday night in Jacksonville, Fla., and with the memory of a 1-0 win in Italy in February not completely faded, the Americans will try to show they belong on the same field with one of the top teams in the world — albeit one going though an even more massive overhaul.
"There are no more friendly games in soccer anymore; there's always something at stake," said veteran midfielder Landon Donovan, who had three goals and an assist against Scotland.
Still, Donovan doesn't think American fans monitoring the progress the team has made since Klinsmann took over from Bob Bradley 10 months ago should make a judgment solely on the result against the five-time World Cup champions.
"This is a long process," Donovan said after a workout Tuesday. "If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. It's not important. The goal is to make sure we qualify for the World Cup."
Klinsmann called the matchup against Brazil "an exciting benchmark. It will tell us a lot about where we are in our process and it will definitely help us prepare for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers."
With most of his roster in place — late arrivals Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore joined the team Monday and their conditioning remains in question — Klinsmann is realistic about where the U.S. stands in the world's soccer hierarchy.
"Our goal is to catch up," he said. "We have a lot of catching up to do. Tomorrow night is a big stepping stone for us. Step by step, I think we're getting a little closer. But it will still take some time."
This is a different Brazilian team than the one the U.S. nearly beat in the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup, when the Americans failed to hold a 2-0 halftime lead and wound up losing 3-2. If anything, the road win over Italy is something the Americans will be thinking about more.
"Without question, it gave us confidence going into the Scotland game, knowing that we went into a very difficult place and beat Italy on its own turf and they played their strongest team possible and wanted that game badly," veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
Klinsmann knows that Brazil will be playing to win, given the pressure building as the soccer-crazed South American country prepares to host the World Cup in 2014. The team's quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands in South Africa led to the departure of its coach, Dunga. The debate still swirls around successor, Mano Menezes, and whether his approach will be successful in taking the trophy away from Spain.
Recalling a coaching clinic he attended in Rio de Janeiro last December, Klinsmann said, "They don't only want to win the World Cup, they want to win it in style. It is a very difficult task for him [Menezes]."
Sandro — the 23-year-old who has been a national team player since 2008 and is one of the more experienced players for Brazil — said that the fans who come Wednesday or those back home expect a victory.
Many of his teammates have limited experience on the national team, but will feel no less pressure.
"There's always pressure on the Brazilian national team," said Sandro, a defensive midfielder who plays for Tottenham in the English Premier League. "We are a young team, we are starting a new generation and there's always pressure about it. We are just going to do our job. We are used to pressure."
Klinsmann is not familiar with many of the players on Brazil's current roster, but he knows the sight of the famous yellow jerseys should inspire his players.
"Tomorrow night, at the end of the day, it's down to their dedication and hunger and their willingness to suffer in more than 90 degrees, to chase these yellow shirts who are pretty good," Klinsmann said. "We are going to match up in the best possible way to give them a real fight."
So much for it being a friendly.