Strong Belgium squad offers tough first test of busy stretch for USMNT

Tim Howard

By DAN KARELL

CLEVELAND– It may not be highest on the list in terms of importance, but the first match of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s upcoming run of five matches in two weeks will certainly be one of the toughest.

The USMNT begin their busy run of matches on Wednesday night against Belgium, one of most talented young teams in the world. Boasting the likes of Christian Benteke, Marouane Fellaini, and Vincent Kompany, Belgium’s top players are all likely to see time in the match at FirstEnergy Stadium, giving the U.S. a strong test ahead of three World Cup qualifiers in June.

“It’s a heck of a challenge for a first game, but big games are awesome to play and you learn lessons whether you play really well or really badly,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “I don’t think we’ll play really badly. I think they’re going to hit us on the break. I get the feeling it will be one of those games where they’ve all come over from Europe, and they’ll lay in wait, and then hit us on the counter.”

Belgium is currently unbeaten in their UEFA World Cup qualifying group, winning their last four in a row and featuring some of the best attacking players in the region. Head coach Marc Wilmots brought his side to the states to play the U.S. and get some team bonding time ahead of a crucial qualifying match against Serbia on June 8.

“I know my group and I have no time for experiments,” Wilmots told Het Nieuwsblad. “For now I do not think of throwing away my system. The important thing now is to get match fitness and get in shape for Serbia.”

Howard and a number of his European-based teammates are joining the U.S. squad after another long and grueling season with their clubs, and a number of the players took some time off to help recharge the batteries for the upcoming stretch of games.

At the same time, seven players currently in camp are coming from their Major League Soccer clubs, where they are right in the middle of their season, forcing the coaching staff to focus on making sure everyone is in the correct mindset.

“Guys are coming off a long season and the couple of days, the little break, helped everybody” defender Geoff Cameron said. “We’re mentally trying to get sharp. We worked on our shape, some possession, and get that fiery attitude to come out and take care of business.”

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has already named his starting central midfielders, giving Sacha Kljestan a rare start alongside Jermaine Jones in place of Michael Bradley, who will be meeting up with the squad in Washington D.C. for their match on Sunday against Germany. Kljestan is coming off a second-consecutive championship season at club side Anderlecht, where he’ll go up against many of his teammates and league adversaries.

One of the leading story lines in the match is the potential 100th cap for DaMarcus Beasley, who produced two stellar performances at left back in the last two qualifying matches between Costa Rica and Mexico. The 30-year-old began his national team career in 2001, and still is playing a role with the team in 2013.

“We are happy for Beasley, because he deserves to get his 100th cap, he deserves to be part of this group here,” Klinsmann said. “His character and commitment to the national team is outstanding. What we always liked about him is that he challenges himself. He always wants to do another thing, he doesn’t want to stand still.”

The focus for the team remains on the three World Cup qualifying matches against Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras in June, but the team knows that this match against Belgium and Sunday’s against Germany will help the team make the most of the qualifiers.

“Both those games are going to be tough and that puts us in a good position going into qualifying because we’re going to be ready for whatever,” forward Clint Dempsey said.

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77 Responses to Strong Belgium squad offers tough first test of busy stretch for USMNT

  1. keithbabs79 says:

    These friendlies are a win/win: Either someone will finally standout in the midfield, or Donovan will ensure himself a spot on the Gold Cup squad.

    • USMNTfan says:

      Either way, they are both good excuses to drink beer.

    • Socom 2 says:

      Its not a wiin win if klinsmann is calling up players like edu, davis, or evans

      He should be calling up morales, wooten, diskerud

      • HoboMike says:

        Fail.

      • kash says:

        epic fail what are you a euro snob, davis has more talent on his foot than any of those, edu are you kidding me?

        • zztoppppp says:

          Hmmm. I would like to disagree, sir. I think Davis is better than Evans by a mile, but he and Morales are completely different players so you can’t really judge that, and Diskerud may be one of the best creative midfielders in the pool right now, Klinsmann just needs to give him more than 10 minutes.

          • Josh D says:

            Klinsi doesn’t need to give him more minutes as a trial. In 10 minutes Mix has scored and equalizer and assisted on the winning goal. Mix should be in consideration, off the bench, at the USMNT level.

            I also think Corona deserves a shot. It’s baffling that are creative, young midfielders are not given a chance. I can only hope Klinsi will use them this Gold Cup, then rationalize that they are ready to step up.

            Klinsi managed Germany successfully because he trusted youth. For some reason now he’s jaded about youth.

            • Joe+G says:

              Corona does, but his team is still playing.

            • Eurosnob says:

              I completely agree on both Corona and Mixx deserving a shot.

              • GW says:

                Corona will get his shot.

                Mix needs to show more.

                At the club level he failed in his loan at Belgium and the Norwegian league, ranked 26-27 in Europe, is arguably less competitive than MLS.
                His USMNT appearances?
                One goal near the end of a friendly when the game has opened up and more than likely the opposing defense is probably mentally already in the locker room. The same for his great assist to Agudelo vs. SA.

                And he clearly did not impress JK in training.

              • Twomilerule says:

                Mixx could have been more so on the JK/USMNT radar if the MLS would have allowed him to play for the Timbers. Which is now a lose,lose and lose position for the Timbers, USMNT, and MLS

              • caerbannog fc says:

                definitely a fan of both mix diskerud and carona… at least starting out as squad players, both are quality.

              • GW says:

                twomilerule,

                As I understand it Mix chose not to go to Portland.

                Is that inaccurate?

          • a big +1 on Diskerud. Hope he’ll be on the Gold Cup team.

      • Fast Cheese says:

        It’s not a win if Klinsmann wastes these friendlies with the same risk averse strategies and style of play that has netted the US virtually no offense whatsoever during qualifying. I don’t care if we lose 5-0 to Belgium, so long as we stop playing two defensive midfielders in the middle of the pitch, play creative central midfielders in central midfield, rather than pushing them out to the wing, and stop leaving actual wingers on the bench (or at home). Use the next two games to gauge who’s capable of managing possession and producing offense in a less conservative formation. The result of these games is far less important that pushing comfort levels and attempting to grow and improve.

  2. Old School says:

    I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bob Bradley and I’m not a blind JK hater, but “and get that fiery attitude to come out and take care of business.”, that has been missing since JK took over.

    The typical, blue collar “you may have more ability than me, but you’re not going to outwork me/I’m not going down without a fight” attitude hasn’t been nearly as visible as I’d like.

    Sure, we’ve shown some of that character in a few matches but not nearly enough for my liking. At some point, regardless if you like your manager, your fellow players or your position, our Nats need to roll up their sleeves and represent the colors with pride….and fight. Every match.

    • Lost in Space says:

      Would really help if we could field a consistent starting VI for a chance. The injuries and interchangeable parts is nice…but this team needs to start to form some real chemistry for the final push in qualification. Once we qualify than JK and his staff can play around with mixing players/positions.

      • HoboMike says:

        It would certainly suck to play with VI instead of XI…

        Sorry. I’ve been drinking.

        • ed - houston says:

          well, at least you caught that with a buzz. i did not catch it while sober. i’ll be drinking it up tonight though, unfortunately it will be at BBVA USOC instead of watching the nats play.

        • milkshake of despair says:

          Although I don’t think this is what he intended, he may be right. I’m not sure we have had a consistent starting VI. Howard, MB, JJ and Dempsey come to mind. That makes IV. So getting to VI would be an improvement. Work our way up to XI…

      • Wisco says:

        Going with a starting VI is a bold strategy Klins, let’s see if it pays off.

        Roman Numerals are tough.

    • kash says:

      Don’t think you have been paying attention my friend

    • Kev says:

      Love your comment, Old School!! I am with you 200%. The blue collar attitude you describe is our signature and always should be. Our talent level has always improved and will continue to but we should never lose our signature.

    • wandmdave says:

      It seems I’m more pro-JK than most who comment on this blog but I have to agree. Whatever our faults under Bradley’s system we had a disciplined defense and tremendous work rate and heart from everyone and those strengths have eroded under JK. I will say some of the problem is due to turnover all over the field and especially the back line as well as a shift from the 100% defend and counter strategy we used to employ to one where we tend to pressure high and commit numbers forward when in possession. Even then there have been a handful of games where the team just looked flat and sluggish for whatever reason and those games were very disappointing. The Honduras game and that stretch of 5 games this time last year come to mind here. We played well against Scotland and played hard against Brazil in that blowout loss but the games against Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, and Guatemala weren’t great. Everyone just seemed tanked in those games.

    • GW says:

      Part of the reason for that, and only part of it, is that fewer and fewer of the regulars are blue collar players relative to the national team.

      Two examples,Dempsey may be a blue collar guy on Spurs but he is royalty to the USMNT. And Howard is considered a god by his fellow CONCACAF keepers and until the very recent challenge by Guzan , has been unquestionably an automatic choice since Keller left the scene. This was not good.

      I have no doubt that consideration factored into JK’s treatment of Donovan.

      • Pirithous says:

        The problem with your theory is that those three guys (Howard, Dempsey, Donovan) were at the heart of the Bob Bradley teams — that they are prima donas is not a viable explanation for the team lacking grit and a blue collar ethic and heart under Klinsmann. They were the ones providing the heart under Bradley, not the ones sapping it under Klinsmann.

        I think a much more viable explanation comes from Klinsmann himself in the Strauss article. He is committed to the idea that keeping the players from feeling comfortable is an important part of the plan (go back and read his direct quotes from that article; I am not referring to the anonymous sources). That model of management has some advantages, but one of its big disadvantages is that it tends to short circuit the sort of esprit de corps that Bob Bradley was good at creating.

  3. Nate says:

    Can you guys imagine if we had to qualify in Europe? Where this Belgium team is thought of as “oh, they’re okay,” but not really one of the top teams? Hurray for CONCACAF!

    • SirWilliam says:

      Qualifying in Europe would only be hard because there is a smaller margin for error since only the top 2 of each group remain in contention for the world cup. However, all those groups will still have (at least) 2 minnows that all the better teams will claim easy points from. Additionally, the hostile environments, 30-foot barbed wire fences, and god-awful playing surfaces are practically unseen in Europe the last 2 decades. In CONCACAF, you have that in just about every road game the U.S. faces. Lastly, in the final round of CONCACAF Qualifying, you will always have the top 6 in the region fighting for their world cup lives, rather than 2 or 3 traditional powers per group in EUFA Qualifying this round.

      • Cedric Van Dorpe says:

        Qualification group A in Europe consists of Croatia (ranked 4th on the FIFA rankings), Belgium, Serbia, Scotland, Macedonia and Wales.
        None of those are walkovers, the “pot 6″ (lowest ranked) team in this group was Wales which still has players like Gareth Bale. Only 1 of these teams will qualify directly and 1 other faces the prospect of playing teams like France or Portugal in the 2nd place play-offs.

        I’m not saying the USA would have no chance of qualifying at all, anything can happen in soccer, but CONCACAF is definitely way easier.

        • zztoppppp says:

          Apologies, but I consider the USMNT dismantling Scotland 5-1 as us walking over them, thus making them a “walkover”.

          • ld says:

            that was a friendly at home..not at all the same as a WCQ in Scotland

          • AcidBurn says:

            Scotland during WCQ games in Europe would actually play, not lay out in the sun and drink beer in Miami and then show up for the game.

        • White Kix says:

          I would gladly have our boys play Scotland in World Cup Qualifying. We can actually score against them (assuming LD is on the pitch). Also, the last four on your list would not qualify from concacaf, and the other two would struggle (or at least would usually struggle, they might have a stronger team this cycle than normal that would make qualification easier).

          • GW says:

            If the US were to play Scotland in WCQ it wouldn’t be anything like that friendly.

            The biggest thing about CONCACAF qualifying is the 3 places.

            Most groups in Europe have 2 or maybe 3 big teams. Very few if any have 4. So their margin of error is so much thinner than the US’ .

        • Jerrod says:

          To be fair, Wales doesn’t have “players” like Gareth Bale, they have “player” like Garth Bale. That’s a big difference.

    • Riggity says:

      I think you are underestimating the perception Belgium is getting in Europe, if I can tell they are going to be a big time player in the next couple WC cycles I’m sure the hooligans over there see it as well. But I agree, I love being a big fish in our pond.

    • wandmdave says:

      UEFA is definitely a cut above but I don’t think it is the gap you seem to imply. We definitely would struggle to qualify every cycle because we would be a mid-range team instead of a big fish but its not like every team over there is at the level of Germany and Spain and CONCACAF has its own challenges as SirWilliam mentioned. As zztoppppp mentioned we beat Scotland 5-1 last year. We’d be in the running.

      • Brett says:

        Croatia, Belgium, and Serbia all finish ahead of us in that group. We are undoubtedly one of the top 2 in our own region, and we would be a middling nation in Europe, one of those teams that qualifies once in a while and has a HUGE celebration because of it, solely based on our talent level and style of play. It’s just a cold, hard fact about the caliber of athletes and quality of organization we have.

        • Dennis says:

          Didn’t we tie Slovenia and England at the last wc and won the group? In 2006 we tied Italy and lost to the Czech Repubilc, in 2002, we defeated Portugal and lost to Poland then narrowly lost to Germany in the quarterfinals. I think that indicates the US is capable of competing with euro teams that qualify.

        • GW says:

          On the other hand, if the rules of the game were changed the US would have to adapt.

          Euro teams are on a two year cycle, WC and then Euros.

          The US is on a four cycle, the WC one.

          Euro teams, the competitive ones, are tested more frequently then. This tends to tighten up your talent pool in terms of knowing who the good core group is.

          It is possible then that the US would just get more competitive.

          • Conrad says:

            Well said. I was thinking the same thing.
            Still. I wish we had Eden Hazard. Or even Marouane Fellaini’s hair.

  4. HoboMike says:

    I love how the author of this post decided to give props to Benteke, Kompany, and Fellaini.

    Because, you know, Hazard, Lukaku, De Bruyne, Witsel, Vermaelen, Vertonghen and Courtois are just squad players.

  5. swifty says:

    +10. I actually LOLed in bed. Wife told me to put the fone down.

  6. swifty says:

    Sorry that was to Chris.

  7. David M says:

    No European team has ever come to the US to play a friendly after a long season treating the game as anything serious.

  8. Brett says:

    Bold prediction: Kljestan has a virtuoso performance against a mostly uninterested Belgium, shades of Sweden years ago. US wins 3-1.

    • Mig says:

      That is bold indeed. Sacha may play well…I sincerely expect him to. But even a disinterested or looking-past-this Belgian team will probably not concede three. But hey, that’s why your prediction is BOLD.

    • ed - houston says:

      I don’t know, i think it will be a success if we draw AND play well.

    • AcidBurn says:

      Nah, more like US hangs in there and Belgium blows a number of chances in the first half, then Belgium subs in all its backups and Dempsey or Altidore scores in the 75th minute (since JK will run them into the ground for “fitness”) and US wins 1-0.

      US fans crow about beating Belgium (OMG! Fellaini! Dembele! Lukaku=Beast! Kompany!) and beat their chest.

      • Benjamin C. says:

        It is not like the U.S. is sending out a bunch of scrubs who have no international respect. Dempsey is a known goal scorer in the Premier League and Altidore is a beast in Holland. Jones played very well in the Champions League this season, Kljestan is on one of the best teams in Belgium, Gonzalez and Besler were rocks in Mexico City, etc. Do our guys have the pedigree of a lot of the Belgian players? Probably not. Do we always play beautiful, elegant soccer? No. But would anyone be particularly shocked if the U.S. wins a home friendly over Belgium tonight? Doubtful.

  9. Bob says:

    Only 2 of Sacha’s teammates are on the team (and another 4 from the Belgium Pro League); most the team is made up of Premier League players.

  10. kelso says:

    Guys,
    I just read every last comment searching for a witty zinger about the picture of Timmy at the top. What happened?
    Very truly yours,
    A disappointed reader

  11. Bac says:

    Ok… the poll is in.. and it’s confirmed that this crowd is ready for some “Scream at the TV time”

    Ribs on the smoker… Johnny Black in the glass

  12. Cairo says:

    US will play an aggressive and inspired first half, going into the break 1-1. Belgium then will break the US down in the second half, final score 3-1. We will feel good because at least there were some chances.

  13. fliffy lefoffelif says:

    I think the most disappointing scoreline is also the most likely. Belgium 1 – USA 0

  14. Andrew in tally says:

    If we played in Europe we would have been World Cup champs by now,given our population size and the fact that soccer not basketball,baseball,football,would be the sport of choice for top athletes. Just saying