The Soccer Desk

The Devils & the Details: Pregaming USA v Belgium

kljestan-engine

Shortly after taking over the reigns of the USMNT, Jurgen Klinsmann packed up his boys and took a flight over to Europe to get a sense of where the team was.  They were not where he had hoped.  On a rainy night in Brussels the Red Devils* whipped on the Yanks like they were managed by Willem II rather than a Bavarian striker of questionable executive pedigree.  Just under two years later, on the eve of perhaps the most important month of Klinsmann’s tenure the Yanks and Waffles are set to fight it out again.  Hope you’re not feeling Flemish, because its international soccer from the banks of Lake Erie, and the Yanks are coming.

*sorry Manchester United fans, Belgium beat you to the nickname by about 60 years.

United States vs Belgium

International Friendly

First Energy Stadium, Cleveland OH

Tuesday, May 29th

8pm EST

TV/Online:  ESPN, UniMas (Spanish) /  ESPN3

Pre/Half/Post Game Coverage: The Best Soccer Show via KickTV

Perhaps the most interesting storyline for the Belgian side will be some of the positional shifts expected of their top players.  With Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen & Thomas Vermaelen all playing in central defense at a champions-league level for their club sides, expect the Devils’ coach Marc Wilmots to try and get all four on the field, with Vertonghen playing out to the left, and his successor at Ajax Alderweireld out to the right.  All four are immensely skilled going forward, and constitute a major attacking threat, especially on setpieces.  In the midfield Everton’s Marouane Fellaini will shift back from his normal attacking role to take a holding midfield position alongside Moussa Dembele.  Fellaini certainly has the physical ability to suit the role, but many have questioned his tactical awareness.  Eden Hazard will be out with an injury, but his brother Thorgen should be a key factor in the match, as will Fellaini’s club teammate KEvin Mirallas.

The Yanks come into this match with many key players unavailable due to club commitments and injuries.  Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Edgar Castillo & Joe Corona are all out for the Belgium match, with Bradley, Johnson & Williams expected to be available for Germany on Sunday, and the two Xolos players rejoining the squad in Kingston for the qualifier against the Reggae Boys.  Omar Gonzalez just arrived in camp and will probably be in the 18 but not start.  Brad Evans will continue to be a plague on my soccer-viewing experience by being the default right back.

Put in a positive light, this should give Klinsmann an opportunity to look at several players in new roles against top competition.  Sacha Kjlestan, who plies his club trade in Belgium for champions league-bound Anderlecht has been confirmed to be starting the match in midfield alongside Jermaine Jones, and may wear the armband.  The rest of the roster will probably shake out like this.

belgium

Key Points

Mistake by the Lake – The Yanks return to Cleveland for the first time in 7 years, their last visit a World Cup warm up against Venezuela.  Attendance is expected to wind up around 25,000; not bad for a mid-week friendly in a baseball stadium, but the location and timing seem odd, when so many traditional soccer markets go begging for matches this summer.

Stu’s on – The news heading into tonight’s match was on the roster front, with the exculsion of Landon Donovan & the inclusion, for the first time under Klinsmann of  Stuart Holden.  Once the great white attacking midfield hope of the USMNT, but a series of disastrous injuries turned him from Claudio Reyna’s heir apparent to John O’Brien’s sure successor.  Klinsmann has committed to having Holden in camp for both the summer qualifiers and the Gold Cup, so the Bolton man should have every opportunity to win a spot on the first team heading into the fall.  The question of his ability to beat out players like Sacha Kjlestan & Joe Corona, after so long away from the international game however, remains open.

Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae – Belgium is good.  Really, really good.  They’re the store cereal that somehow tastes better than the Lucky charms.  They’re better than France, they’re better than England, and they’re certainly better than the B squad Germany is bringing over to face the Yanks in DC this weekend.  They have four world class centerbacks, an elite playmaker, and a world-class target forward with the feet to play midfield.  They’re better than this US roster at almost every position except in net.  They’re very good.  Check out the special edition of our podcast with Benefoot.net’s Belgian soccer editor Gary Niblock for more information on the Red Devils.

#BradEvansIsEverythingWrongWithAmericanSoccer – Well, he is.

Bold Predictions

Belgium wins 3-1.  Goals for Vertonghen,  Mirallas and PSV attacker Dries Mertens, with Brad Evans answering back for the Yanks, because the universe has a sense of humor.  Man of the match goes to Mousa Dembele, who sets up all three Red Devils goals.

Join the  Soccer Desk crew at The Crossbar in Havertown tonight for the match, and look for a live podcast immediately after the game.