USMNT vs. Belgium: Reaction and Match Review

USMNT-LogoWednesday night, the United States played host to Belgium at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. The match provided an opportunity for the US to prove themselves against one of Europe’s emerging powerhouses, a Belgium side that has rose to number 15 in the FIFA World Rankings. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men produced some bright spots throughout the match but were thoroughly outplayed by a Belgium side that could be very dangerous at World Cup 2014.

It took only six minutes for Belgium to register their first goal, after Kevin De Bruyne placed a slide-rule pass to striker Romelu Lukaku which prompted goalkeeper Tim Howard to come off his line. Howard didn’t collect the ball and Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron were slow to react, giving Everton’s Kevin Mirallas a chance that he converted with a neat finish.

The second goal of the game came of a United States corner, when Clint Dempsey headed the ball across the face of goal to Geoff Cameron, who headed the ball into the back of the net. Lukaku left his spot and should he have been well-placed, it could have compensated for Jan Vertonghen, who was unable to get up high enough after a slight nudge from the Stoke City man.

A first half substitution saw Aston Villa hitman Christian Benteke enter the fold, coming on for Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele. In the 56th minute, centre-back Omar Gonzalez had a poor touch that fell to Kevin De Bruyne, who passed the ball to Benteke, who was ready to pounce.

De Bruyne was again involved in the third goal after he played in a lovely cross to Marouane Fellaini, who was making a far post run. The titanic Everton midfielder nailed a powerful header, beating Tim Howard and making Belgium two goals to the good.

A fourth Belgium goal followed just seven minutes after a beautiful ball was played to Benteke and the Premier League’s fourth-leading scorer chipped it over Howard.

In the 80th minute, Clint Dempsey converted a penalty. It was quite a suspect call as the replay showed that the defender had tucked the arm into his body when the ball was played. It’s even more puzzling considering De Bruyne flicked the ball into the outstretched arm of DaMarcus Beasley and the referee waved it off.

The game was always going to be a difficult one for the US as Belgium’s has something of a golden generation going on right now. The Red Devils exposed the American defense and Klinsmann’s men will need to improve. Though Geoff Cameron scored, he looked out of sorts defensively. Omar Gonzalez did not turn out a good performance and was arguably the worst American player on the pitch. Clarence Goodson also had a subpar game. 31-year old DaMarcus Beasley was their best defender and provided consistent ball pressure. Dealing with man-child Romelu Lukaku is an unenviable task but Beasley fared well against the Chelsea man.

Jermaine Jones played his natural holding midfield role in Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1 and sparkled, turning in a performance that was perhaps the best of any American player. Jones’ defensive midfield partner Sacha Kljestan was decent but was unable to play the incisive ball that could carve open the Belgian defense. Brad Davis went missing through large stretches of the match and Graham Zusi had a decent game, though he was  unable to prevent Fellaini from rising high and scoring. To Zusi’s credit, not many players in world football are able to contend with the afro-clad Belgian in the air.

Clint Dempsey played well but the Belgium defense was largely able to neutralize the Tottenham midfielder. Jozy Altidore looked lively in the first 20 minutes of the game but didn’t look a huge threat and was substituted off early.

For Belgium, a win had to be expected. Thomas Vermaelen did leave very early in the match with an injury that hopefully isn’t a bad one. Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld played well and substitute Sebastien Pocognoli showed he can provide defensive depth and played in a tantalizing cross at the end of the first half. Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet didn’t have much to deal with but will be solid competition for Thibaut Courtois.

Marouane Fellaini and Steven Defour were solid in the center of the pitch and the physicality of Fellaini, coupled with the passing ability of Defour allowed Belgium to control the midfield area. The pacy Kevin Mirallas was a threat throughout the match and though Kevin De Bruyne’s shooting was wayward, he had two assists and another pass that unlocked the defense. It remains to be seen if De Bruyne will be at Chelsea next year but Jose Mourinho should certainly bring the 21-year-old Belgian into the fold at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard did not play in the match but the Chelsea winger is prodigiously talented and his inclusion could have further doomed the shambolic American defense.

If there was one position for Belgian fans to get excited about, it’s the striker position. Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku had 17 goals on loan at West Brom and will only improve. He’s very strong and not only is he a corporeal beast, Lukaku has a unique mix of pace and skill that is truly reminiscent of Didier Drogba. Christian Benteke was sensational for Aston Villa this season and the 22-year-old already has six goals in 13 appearances for the national team.

If Benteke and Lukaku can play together, which they did for a large part of the match, Belgium with have an incredibly formidable forward line that checks all the boxes. At the very least, both players will be in constant competition if coach Marc Wilmots elects to stay with a one striker system, and will push each other to be their best.

These two teams are at very different points. Belgium are locked in a heated battle with Croatia for direct qualification into the World Cup 2014 and have a talented, young side that could be the surprise package of the tournament in Brazil, should they get there.

Jurgen Klinsmann must first find what combination of defenders will fare the best in a crowded CONCACAF region. A defense takes a while to settle in and get to know each other so it behoove the German tactician to decide who will comprise his back-line sooner rather than later. Midfield creativity is a must as even though Jozy Altidore received good service in the first part of the match, he will need consistent service if the US are to score.

Michael Bradley will help and should form a nice partnership with Jermaine Jones in the center of the pitch but further up the field, Clint Dempsey needs help. Friendlies are a good way for teammates to feel each other out, but if the United States turns in another performance like this in their friendly against Germany this coming Sunday, expect the score-line to be much, much worse.

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