PALO ALTO, Calif. -- It may be the most positive thing that TTC has ever happened to U.S. soccer, this match against Brazil on the Fourth of July at Stanford Stadium.
Imagine how many sappy story leads and cornball patriotic headlines will be written if our soccer ingenues, the Little Boys Red, White and Blue, upset the World Cup's most famous team, the team whose play has given the tournament a rainbow of brilliance over the last four decades.
There is likely only one way that can happen today. The United States must give a masterly display of what is called negative soccer.
"Against Brazil, you don't try to create," said U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos. "You try to destroy."
That means a near-total concentration on defense, interrupted by an occasional counterattack. The best hope would be for the United States to get an early goal, lucky or otherwise, and see how the Brazilians react to having a deficit added to the enormous pressure to win they always are under. Then the United States might get a tie to be settled by the whimsy of penalty kicks.
"The United States is a team that has nothing to lose against Brazil," said Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. "We are supposed to win the game. We have to be careful -- not afraid, of course, but careful."
The winner goes on to play Saturday in Dallas against the winner of today's match between the Netherlands and Ireland. The loser goes home -- or, as seems likely in this case, stays home.
Back in its homeland, Parreira's team has been relentlessly criticized because it finished the first round with a 1-1 tie against Sweden.
Midfielders Dunga, Zinho and Mauro Silva have been called too slow. Rai's playmaking has been considered ineffectual, and he will not start against the United States. Some say speedy left back Leonardo belongs in midfield. According to Pele, so does Bebeto, one of the world's great goal scorers at forward.
"It's something of a cultural struggle between the Brazilian press and Parreira," said Pedro Bial, usually the London-based correspondent for the TV network O Globo.
"Brazilians don't think you can have discipline and creativity at the same time, which is what Parreira wants."
Brazil thinks the game should be played the way it was in 1970, when Pele led the team to its third world title in 12 years. At that time, Brazil played with four forwards and defenders gave Pele room to work his magic with the ball.
Soccer has changed dramatically since then. Teams win with defense. Forwards are hacked and smothered. Playmaking midfielders see in-your-face defensive coverage that gives them only a split-second to look over the field and consider the next pass, which usually is more pragmatic than inspired.
In the last World Cup, Brazilian coach Sebastiao Lazaroni committed the crime against passion of using a sweeper, or fifth defender, the way most European teams play. He did not realize that Brazil would not accept winning ugly.
Because Parreira had the audacity to spend much of the last 20 years studying soccer worldwide, Brazilians think he has betrayed the country's tradition of "jogo bonito," or beautiful play. Such suggestions infuriate Parreira, who coached the United Arab Emirates in the 1990 World Cup and took over Brazil's team in 1991.
How good was Brazil on defense in the first round? Its goalie, Claudio Taffarel, needed to make just five saves in three games, fewer than half as many as any other team's goalkeepers. By comparison, Tony Meola of the United States stopped 36 shots in the first round, 10 more than any other team's goalies.
WORLD CUP TODAY
* Sweden 3, Saudi Arabia 1
* Romania 3, Argentina 2
L * Netherlands vs. Ireland at Orlando, Fla., 12:05 p.m., ESPN
RF * Brazil vs. United States at Palo Alto, Calif., 3:35 p.m., Ch. 13