Result against Belgium matters less than individual U.S. performances
Playmaker Jose Torres appears to be a beneficiary of the coaching change
Jurgen Klinsmann is using these friendlies as a chance to experiment
Belgium is loaded with talent but its effort will be questionable
Four thoughts heading into the U.S.'s friendly at Belgium on Tuesday (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN3.com):
No U.S. player is benefiting more from the Jurgen Klinsmann hire than José Torres. The 23-year-old playmaker from East Texas was out in the cold under Bob Bradley, who started Torres in a World Cup game against Slovenia, took him off at halftime and never called him into another U.S. camp over the next year. Now Torres is starting for Klinsmann, and his impact has been impressive. Forget the result on Friday for a second: the way Torres set the tempo in the first half for a U.S. team that pinged the ball around on the ground was encouraging considering Klinsmann's desire to play a more attractive style, at least against CONCACAF foes not named Mexico. Now it's up to Torres to take the next step and play more of those passes in advanced positions. He should be able to take some risks without fearing that he'll be yanked at halftime, as he so often was in previous U.S. experiences.
Friendly results should matter little right now. Anyone who's bent out of shape over the U.S.' 1-0 loss to Costa Rica should relax. The U.S.' results should only really matter once World Cup qualifying starts next June. Sure, fans want to see their team play well, but Klinsmann has a chance now to experiment and find out which players can hack it and which can't under the new regime. If that means some players appear out of their depth, then so be it. Others won't be. Keep in mind, though, that Klinsmann doesn't have a ton of time to figure things out. There are only five FIFA dates left -- in other words, five chances to get the full A-squad together -- before the U.S.' World Cup qualifying campaign starts, and Landon Donovan may well miss two of them in November if L.A. reaches the MLS Cup final. That said, the U.S. camp in January should provide the usual chance to bring in the domestic- and Scandinavian-based players for training and perhaps two additional friendlies.
Will Belgium bring its A game? On paper this Belgium squad has some of the highest-valued players on the European market, including French league player of the Year Eden Hazard of Lille, Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku, Everton's Marouane Fellaini, Benfica's Axel Witsel and Manchester City's Vincent Kompany. (Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen, Ajax's Jan Vertonghen and Bayern Munich's Daniel van Buyten are out injured.) Tuesday's game should be a good road challenge, but it remains to be seen how many of Belgium's top guys are on the field. The Belgians suffered a big blow in Euro 2012 qualifying on Friday by giving up a late goal to tie 1-1 in Azerbaijan, and qualification now looks bleak with Belgium behind Germany (which is already in) and Turkey (which leads Belgium by one point with a game in hand). How motivated with Belgium be for this friendly? Hard to say.
How might the U.S. lineup look? This is U.S. star Clint Dempsey's first time with the team since Klinsmann took over, so it will be interesting to see where the new coach puts him on the field. Also new to the U.S. camp in Belgium are Steve Cherundolo and Kyle Beckerman, while Donovan, Teal Bunbury, Fabian Johnson and Chris Pontius have returned to their clubs. Here's my best guess of the 11 players Klinsmann will choose for the U.S. lineup:
GK: Tim Howard
Howard didn't have a lot to do on Friday, but he did make some good saves, including one monster stop on Costa Rica's scoring sequence. He obviously knows Fellaini well from Everton.
Defenders: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo
If Cherundolo is in camp we'll probably see him in place of Timmy Chandler at right back. I'd be surprised if Goodson went two games without seeing time in the center, though it's possible Michael Orozco Fiscal could start again. And while Castillo struggled again on Friday, there aren't any obvious candidates to take his place (Jonathan Spector maybe?).
Holding midfielder: Kyle Beckerman
The Salt Lake midfielder had a good performance starting in this spot against Mexico last month, which makes me think he'll get another shot. So far Klinsmann has gone with one holding midfielder in both games. Another possibility: Maurice Edu.
Midfielders: Clint Dempsey, Sacha Kljestan, José Torres, Brek Shea
Will Dempsey play centrally or on the flank? Hard to say, but I think the Brussels-based Kljestan will get a start here, and he has been used so far in a central position.
Forward: Jozy Altidore
Whether you call the U.S.'s alignment a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 (as I do), Altidore figures to get the start again. Can he perform as a lone center forward, or is he better suited to pairing up?
Check back with SI.com on Tuesday for full coverage, including live commentary and postgame reactions.
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