Friendly international matchups don’t necessarily count, but the lessons learned can certainly help. It was only a year ago that the men representing the Stars and Stripes lost to Belgium 4-2 in an international friendly. Outplayed and outsmarted on that day in Cleveland, the U.S. Men’s National Team will bring an entirely different approach this time around playing Belgium.
A year ago, the U.S. men’s national team was in the midst of roster rotation central. Jurgen Klinsmann was still working on his plan for Brazil. Starting in the back were Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson, who both struggled to hold back the high-powered Belgian attack. Goodson did not make this year’s squad, and Gonzalez looks destined to remain on the bench the rest of the tournament. Also on that team, starting in the midfield was Sacha Kljestan next to Jermaine Jones. With a lineup now used to playing along side each other, the U.S. midfield should be able to hold their own against the star-studded Belgian roster.
A key focus for the Klinsmann heading into the round of 16 is to play smart soccer. Belgium by many was considered a dark horse to win the tournament this summer, with a roster most top 10 countries would be envious of. The United States midfield has to be patient and deliberate with their passes. One misplaced pass can lead to a counter attack with enough pace to leave U.S. defenders in the dust. With the quickness of Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembélé, and Kevin De Bruyne amongst others, lazy passes cannot happen. As they have all tournament long, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman must be the rock in front of the back four. Distributing the ball and clogging the passing lanes could play a huge role in the outcome of this match.
Something to look at during the match is which team can physically impose themselves on the other. The United States is known for producing physically strong, tall, and fast athletes, which hopefully for Jurgen Klinsmann will work in our favor. Assuming the likes of Marouane Fellanini, Dembélé, and potentially Axel Witsel start in the midfield for Belgium, it will be key for .U.S midfielders Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and defenders Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler to impose themselves physically to prevent those players from breaking the game wide open.
It was also announced that Jozy Altidore is healthy and able to play on Tuesday. Will Jozy start up top with Dempsey, or will he come off the bench? It’s a tough decision for Jurgen Klinsmann to make. It would be great to see the U.S. get back to the 4-4-2 diamond midfield that worked so well during friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Michael Bradley has struggled playing out of the 4-5-1 that the U.S. has gone to following the injury to Altidore in the first match against Ghana.
Expect both teams to come out at full speed as the team that can dominate the first 10-20 minutes of the match will most likely control the flow of the match. The last thing Klinsmann wants is to be back to the wall in back-to-back games. It should be an incredibly exciting match that fans from across the globe will be tuning into.