United States forward Landon Donovan, right, kicks the ball past Brazil… (Nick Wass / Associated Press )
LANDOVER, Md. — The list of Brazilian soccer legends began with the incomparable Pele, who as a 17-year led his country to the first of five World Cups in 1958. It has continued, nearly unabated, for half a 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., lived up to his billing Wednesday night with a goal and two assists to lead Brazil to a 4-1 victory over the Americans in front of 67,619 fans in an international friendly 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 Coach Juergen Klinsmann.
A corner kick from Neymar to Thiago Silva's head helped give the yellow-shirted Brazilians a 2-0 lead. After the U.S. breathed some life back into the match and its fans in the equally divided crowd with a goal in the final minute of the first half, Neymar set up defender Marcelo again early in the second half to move Brazil back ahead by two goals.
Taking a neat pass on the end line from Hulk, Neymar made an even more deft feed to a streaking Marcelo to give Brazil a 3-1 lead in the 52nd minute. The U.S. came close to making it a game again, but a four-player combination that began and ended with Clint Dempsey was turned away when a Brazil defender cleared a potential goal away from the net.
Brazil nearly pushed its lead to three goals when Neymar found reserve striker Alexandre Pato in front of defenseless goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had gone to cover the near post against Neymar. But Pato's shot banged off the same post and was pushed out by the Americans.
The U.S. also had a later chance when two close-in shots, one by Herculez Gomez, who had scored the lone American goal, and a rebound by reserve striker Terrence Boyd, were deflected out of the way of Brazilian goalkeeper Rafael. The U.S. had two more chances late in the game when a header in front off a free kick by Landon Donovan was punched over the bar by Rafael in the 85th minute and a subsequent corner was also batted away by Rafael.
Brazil dashed any thought of a late U.S. comeback in the 87th minute when Marcelo lifted a cross to Pato, who this time blasted a low laser past Howard.
The U.S. certainly got frustrated with Neymar's open-field magic. At one point midway through the second half, midfielder Jermaine Jones drew a yellow card for taking Neymar's feet out from under him along the sideline near the U.S. bench.
The crowd reacted with plenty of oohs to many of Neymar's moves.
Brazil had the first legitimate scoring chance — and quickly scored the first goal.
After Howard went airborne in the seventh minute of the match to stop a 20-yard blast from Brazilian striker Hulk, Oguchi Onyewu blocked a point-blank shot inside the box by Leandro Damiao with more than 11 minutes gone.
Unfortunately, Onyewu couldn't get his left elbow out of the way.
The Americans protested that his arm wasn't extended, but Brazil was awarded a penalty kick. Neymar put the ball into back left corner of the goal as Howard dived to his right.
Brazil nearly made it 2-0 a few minutes later when Damiao was served perfectly as he rushed down the middle of the field and found himself facing a seemingly helpless Howard. This time, Howard guessed right, and deflected Damiao's shot with his own foot.
The Americans had trouble getting into their offensive end with any regularity — and had even less touch.
Aside from a first-minute cross by defender Fabian Johnson that sailed over the goal and out of play, the U.S. put little pressure on Brazil's goalkeeper, Rafael. The best chance for the Americans came on a free kick five yards outside the box in the 24th minute.
A curling service from Donovan found team captain Carlos Bocanegra, but Bocanegra's header went over the goal.
If the U.S. wasn't taking advantage of its few opportunities, Brazil was capitalizing on the Americans' loose play.
Twice failing to clear the ball out of the defensive zone, the U.S. watched Brazil nearly score on its first corner kick and then score on its second — a perfectly placed ball from Neymar to the head of Brazil captain Silva, who went unmarked five yards from the American goal.
Silva's header in the 26th minute gave Brazil a 2-0 lead.
The rout appeared to be on.
It looked like Brazil would go up 3-0 when Damiao shoved aside Bocanegra and rushed down the right side before centering a pass for Silva. Just as the ball was about to reach Silva, U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo booted the ball into the stands behind Howard.
Just when it seemed as if the U.S. would go into halftime down by two goals, rapidly developing midfielder Michael Bradley brought the Americans — and their fans — back into the game. He didn't score, but he made the play that led to the U.S. goal.
With the seconds ticking down toward halftime, Bradley stole a pass near midfield, dribbled about 15 yards toward the goal and laid off a beautiful through-ball to Johnson. The streaking defender centered a pass to the goal mouth, with the ball deflecting off a Brazil player and finding the head of Gomez.
Gomez headed it past Rafael late in the final minute of the 45-minute half. It was the third national team goal for the 30-year-old striker, who plays professionally in Mexico.