U.S. defense exposed in ugly friendly loss to Belgium
CLEVELAND -- Three thoughts on the U.S.'s 4-2 loss against Belgium in a friendly Wednesday:
• This one got ugly for Jurgen Klinsmann's team. Belgium is one of the top young national teams in Europe and a darkhorse candidate for a deep run in World Cup 2014, but that's no excuse for a second-half U.S. meltdown in which the American back line was beaten easily time and again. It's bad enough to give up four goals on home soil, but the ease of Belgium's goals is a serious cause for concern. Omar González handed Belgium one goal with a bad touch in the box, while Clarence Goodson's lack of hustle to cover the goal line after Tim Howard had come out led to another. A Brad Guzan misplay was taken advantage of by Marouane Fellaini on an athletic aerial finish, and an unnecessarily high U.S. line was the root cause of Christian Benteke's second strike for Belgium. Give credit to Belgium for having the talent to expose those deficiencies, but this was a step backward for a U.S. defense that was good in Mexico in March.
• Sacha Kljestan didn't make anyone forget Michael Bradley. Even Klinsmann had said before the game that this was a chance for Kljestan to show he could be counted on as a central midfielder in the absence of Michael Bradley (who's resting after the Coppa Italia final and will be available on Sunday vs. Germany). But while Kljestan and midfield partner Jermaine Jones actually had decent pass-completion numbers, they had little impact when it came to creating real danger moving forward. The U.S. was unable to possess the ball very much, and the only good scoring chances came from set-pieces of the kind that led to Geoff Cameron's first-half goal. (A dubious handball penalty set up Dempsey's spot kick for the second.) The U.S. needs to be scheduling friendlies against tough opponents, but this was also a reminder that the Klinsmann Revolution has a long way to go if his team is going to make any noise at World Cup 2014.
• Next up: Germany. It doesn't get any easier for the U.S., which now has to come back Sunday and face a German team that smacked Ecuador 4-2 today. The Germans didn't bring their A-squad, most of which plays for Champions League finalists Bayern and Dortmund, but they do have a clearly motivated team featuring big names (Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose) and emerging youngsters like Julian Draxler. The three upcoming World Cup qualifiers are the most important thing this month, and the opposition won't be as difficult as it is with these European powers. But Klinsmann isn't being paid $2.5 million a year to qualify for the World Cup; he's being paid $2.5 million a year to do some damage in Brazil. If the U.S. wants to give its fans more reason to think that's possible, the performance has to be better in Washington D.C. on Sunday.