USMNT Report: Invisible US Blasted by Belgium

US can’t find consistency in loss to Belgium on Wednesday night
by Herb Scribner   |   Thursday, May 30, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

United States Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann wanted an idea of where his US side stood.

Now he’s got it, and it’s not all too inspiring.

On Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland the USMNT fell 4-2 to Belgium in a match that saw costly mistakes hand the Red Devils a much-deserved victory. 

BELGIUM HIGHLIGHTS: The United States started off well against Belgium, matching the Belgians in speed, confidence and possession. But in the 6th minute, Kevin Mirallas slipped by Geoff Cameron on a rebound attempt and slotted one past goalkeeper Tim Howard to take the lead.

A deflated US side took the field from there and was controlled thoroughly by Belgium for the majority of the half. In the 22nd minute, a corner kick delivered by Dempsey to Cameron knotted the score and redeemed the defender temporarily. Although the US looked better following its goal, Belgium confidently rode the tie into the halftime break.

In the second half, the Belgians came out on fire and notched 3 goals within a 15-minute period. Christian Benteke, who came on as a sub in the 41st minute, slammed a shot past Aston Villa teammate Brad Guzan in the 56th minute to put Belgium up 2-1. Benteke found the ball after Omar Gonzalez’s first touch went right back into the hands of Belgium.

Eight minutes later, Everton’s well-groomed Marouane Fellaini nodded in after a brilliant cross in to raise the score to 3-1. Another excellent pass came in the 71st minute when Steven Defour sent a chip to Benteke, who slammed the ball in to make it 4-1.

Eddie Johnson, who subbed in for Altidore at the break, provided a spark late in the game for the United States, as he made several runs down the left side to try and bring the US back. One cross in glanced off a defender’s hand and led to a penalty kick. Dempsey notched the PK and made it 4-2. Following Dempsey’s PK goal, Stuart Holden, who hadn’t played for the United States since late 2010 because of a leg injury and ensuing surgeries, stepped onto the pitch.

Little else was done following the substitution, and Belgium closed the game out to win 4-2.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: Despite the ugly loss, Klinsmann offered positive remarks about playing the European side.

"Obviously a negative result, but I think an important game because it gets us right on our toes now. … There’s a lot we can learn from these opponents. This is why we play teams like Belgium, like Germany, like Russia or like Italy because there’s so much that you can read from those games. Obviously you want to win them and when you lose them it’s not such a big pleasure, but I’d rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador 100 times because that’s where you learn.”

Klinsmann said he doesn’t expect many players will lose sleep over the loss.

"Those are games that you need to play,” he said. “There is no player that is going to have sleepless nights over the next couple of days. They understand that when they make mistakes they pay for it in defeat. … They understand why certain things happen and then you can correct.”

After making his return to the pitch, Holden explained why the comeback meant so much to him.

“As I said it’s a moment and a thought that had kept me going through my rehab in the sense of walking back out with this group. What it means to be a part of your national team and that feeling collectively was a really special one for me, and something that I’ll treasure and that I won’t forget now as I try to push on and get better.”

ANALYSIS: It wasn’t the most inspiring game for the United States, especially considering the Americans have 3 crucial CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers coming up. Germany, which the US plays on Sunday in another friendly, emphatically walked over Ecuador 4-2 yesterday, so US’ spirits may not be too high after these 2 games.

Similar themes popped up for the US against Belgium. Altidore showed signs in the very early going with a flick and a shot, but otherwise he played too far out on the wing. Dempsey drifted too far into the midfield, which left Altidore alone to fend for himself. The AZ Alkmaar top goal scorer once again disappeared entirely for the match.

Simple mistakes by defenders also plagued the United States. Cameron’s coverage on the first goal spelled doom for the Americans, as the score deflated the team and sucked the confidence away. Gonzalez’s first touch to clear the ball went in the wrong direction, which led to Benteke’s first goal. Goodson was anonymous as well, with only DaMarcus Beasley, who earned his 100th cap for the US last night, showing flashes of good defensive work with his clears – and he’s barely suitable as a defender.

Zusi did well in the midfield, connecting with Dempsey on occasions to build up some plays. Jermaine Jones, despite the yellow card he earned late, held the midfield together and maintained Belgium at points, but didn’t do anything exciting or worthwhile. Sacha Kljestan had a few touches, but mostly fell into the background as Belgium held most of the possession.

The fact the US held Belgium for a good amount of the game – even though the Red Devils were calm, collected and were a pack of wolves on any US attempt – is a positive to maintain, especially with the CONCACAF WCQs coming up. The Belgians are a national side on the rise, and could easily be a dark horse candidate for a 2014 World Cup run. 

In the end, it’s tough to beat a team that’s going to beat you. Belgium and the United States aren’t equal sides, and the Red Devils showed that by how smooth and simple they played their game. Belgium found an easy way to capitalize on the US mistakes, which proved costly on Mirallas’ and Benteke’s first goals.

The match was also a friendly with nothing on the line, so neither side really gave it everything they had. The US does need to sort out its backline, though, as many of the problems arose from that area. Beasley is a natural winger in the midfield, so playing him in defense won’t always provide the best results. The Americans can surely play smarter on some possessions in the back, too.

There’s a lot to say about the offense’s lack of scoring. Altidore once again ghosted through the game and Johnson, who came on as a sub, was the only source of real offensive magic for the US. Brad Davis sent in a few chances throughout the game, but didn’t offer anything too dangerous. Klinsmann needs to find his pure striker and set-up players to get that top third of the field going.

Belgium’s 4-2 win surely won’t inspire the United States, but it might offer a few lessons in what can be learned moving forward. If the Americans can maintain the pace and ability it showed in the first half, the CONCACAF WCQs might yield positives results. But if these costly mistakes arise and continue to do so, the US might find itself on its home soil instead of Brazil next year.

NEXT UP: June 2 – Friendly: United States vs. Germany, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 2:30 p.m. EST,  ESPN2, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.