BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- Despite matching up in a tournament to decide a continent’s champion, Belize and United States are worlds apart when it comes to soccer.
Tuesday’s match will mark Belize’s debut in any soccer tournament that involves teams from outside Central America. Despite the fact that Belize’s population is approximately 1/1000th that of the U.S.`, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad are not overlooking their opponents.
“We expect a game where they probably come out in more of a defensive shape. We need to come out and open them up as early as possible,” Klinsmann said before his team’s practice Sunday afternoon at Jeld-Wen Field. “We expect a difficult game, but we are looking forward to it.
One key Klinsmann is looking for in Tuesday’s match, is that his team does not allow Belize to get comfortable and start believing they can hang with the heavily-favored American side.
“We can’t allow, in the game against Belize, to give them any opportunity,” Klinsmann said. ” You can’t miss chances in the early beginnings because then you chase your own game. There is no reason to underestimate any team in the Gold Cup.”
In their last six matches, Belize’s defense has been solid, having not allowed more than one goal in any match.
And while American captain DaMarcus Beasley knows that upsets happen, he is more concerned with how the U.S. plays than with what Belize will do.
“We’re going to play our game. We’re going to play the way we know how to play,” Beasley said. “The name of the game is scoring goals, so we want to do that as well. We want to start the tournament on a good foot.”
The match will not only mark Belize’s Gold Cup debut, but it will also be the first time the two teams have ever faced one another. Klinsmann, for one, is happy that a country with a population around 350,000 can play at a tournament such as the Gold Cup.
“I think it’s fascinating. I think it’s wonderful for Belize to get that opportunity to be part of the Gold Cup. They deserve it because they did well in the qualifiers that’s why they are here,” Klinsmann said. “We respect every nation coming into the Gold Cup.”
ANOTHER PACIFIC NORTHWEST MATCH
For the second time in a month, the U.S. will play a match in the Pacific Northwest, a region that has become known for its passion for soccer and its local MLS franchises.
“We are thrilled to come to Portland, come back to the Northwest,” Klinsmann said. ”Being here in Portland in a stadium that rocks when the Timbers play, we are looking forward to it.”
The match will mark the first time the U.S. men have played a match in Portland since a 2-0 victory over Kuwait on May 24, 1998.
One major reason for the lack of US men’s games at Portland has been Klinsmann’s hesitation to play on artificial turf. While Seattle’s June World Cup Qualifier was played on a grass field that was put on top of turf, Tuesday’s match will be played on Jeld-Wen’s field turf. Klinsmann said he is happy to play on any field, in any conditions, but “if I have the choice, I always go with natural grass.”
No matter the field, the players are expecting a packed house when the team takes the field Tuesday.
“I’ve heard of the overwhelming support in this region of the country,” Oguchi Onyewu said. “I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it on Tuesday.”
LOOKING BACK ON FRIDAY’S WIN
The U.S. arrived in Portland late Saturday, the day after an impressive 6-0 victory against Guatemala in San Diego. And while the game was the most lopsided victory for the national team in that last five years, Klinsmann isn’t reading too much into the final score.
“We know how to judge the result, we know how to judge that warmup game. We are thrilled that 25,000 people came to San Diego and saw six goals and saw a team that is now trying to bond, trying to build chemistry and trying to prove a point in the next three weeks in a wonderful tournament,” Klinsmann said. “Therefore, it was a good warmup game but now reality kicks in, the Gold Cup starts and we are all excited.”
The match seemed to turn in the second half after the halftime insertion of midfielders Stuart Holden and Mix Diskerud. Despite not scoring any goals in the match, the duo had a major influence in controlling the tempo and pace.
Holden has already moved on from Friday’s match, which was his 20th international cap.
“We had a great win against Guatemala the other night in a friendly, but now, everyone knows what can happen in tournaments, and we have to make sure we are focused 100 percent from the get-go,” Holden said.