The U.S. lost 4–2 to Belgium on Wednesday night, but while the Belgian goals were scored by players of quality, the U.S. will feel that several—if not all—were the result of U.S. errors rather than Belgian skill.
With Michael Bradley not yet in the U.S. camp (his Roma team played in the Italian Cup final on Sunday), Jurgen Klinsmann sent out a new-look central midfield pairing of Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan. In front of them, Brad Davis got a start on the left, Graham Zusi was on the right, and Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore led the line. Behind them all, DaMarcus Beasley received his 100th U.S. cap at left back, with Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez, and Geoff Cameron beside him. Tim Howard was in goal.
For Belgium, Eden Hazard was not fit, as he was recovering from a hamstring injury suffered late in the European club season. But Belgium still had a lot of big guns lining up, including Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, and Marouane Fellaini in the front six, and Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, and Jan Vertonghen in back. Simon Mignolet was in goal.
Neither team started brightly. But it was the Belgians with the first good passage of play. On four minutes, the Belgian team managed to string multiple passes together and suddenly found themselves streaking into the U.S. box. Only a furiously recovering Zusi stopped a dangerous cross or shot from coming in.
Just a minute later, Zusi found Dempsey up the right line. Dempsey drove toward the end line and sent in a good cross. Altidore was there to meet it, but was unable to get a shot away before being swallowed up by the Belgian defense. Altidore has had a club season for the ages, scoring more goals than any American in Europe ever has, but he still has much to prove at international level. That moment of indecision was indicative of his whole night, and the Belgians took immediate advantage.
After Altidore’s missed opportunity, the visitors ran straight up the U.S.’s gut, putting a through ball into the U.S. box for Lukaku to run on to. He met the ball at the same time as Howard, who blocked the shot. Unfortunately, none of the three nearest U.S. defenders—Cameron, Gonzalez, and Goodson—were alive to the situation. Mirallas pounced on the loose ball, and with Howard out of his net, lofted a deft chip in for the score. It was poor communication and poor defending, and confirmed the notion that the U.S. back line is at best unsettled, and at worst a complete mess.
Following the goal, both teams had chances, but the pace of the game seemed oddly subdued. Indeed, while the game would produce six goals, and the U.S. was well beaten, never did it seem that one team was particularly dominant. Belgium had more possession, but the U.S., having given up a silly goal, were defending better. However, in the 15th minute, Cameron found himself dispossessed far upfield after joining the U.S. attack, and the Belgians broke at pace, putting a near-identical through ball into the U.S. box for Lukaku to chase. This time, Howard held on to it.
On 23 minutes, Davis flighted a dangerous cross toward Altidore, but he was unable to get on the end of it, only winning a corner. Zusi’s corner delivery was high and long, and looked to have sailed over everyone, but Dempsey was there to head it back across goal. At the back post, Cameron—after a subtle shove in the back of his marker, Vertonghen—headed the U.S. level.
The goal galvanized the U.S. and seemed to subdue the Belgians, and the rest of the half was relatively uneventful, enlivened mostly by goals not allowed. On the 27th minute, Lukaku, who gave the U.S. fits all night long with his powerful and intelligent runs, took a high ball out of the air deftly with the outside of his right boot. Laying it off, he sprinted into the box, took the return pass and fired it home, only to have it called back for offsides. And on 37 minutes, Beasley nearly gave up a penalty when a driven ball struck his outstretched hand in the box. The ref appeared to believe the contact was ball-to-hand and waved play on.
In the second half, the U.S. got loose, and the goals started flying in. Brad Guzan came on for Howard at the start of the second half, as did Eddie Johnson for Altidore, who’s night was disappointing. Both U.S. subs would play well, but it was a Belgian sub, Christian Benteke, who made the bigger mark.
In the 56th minute, a through ball toward Lukaku at the top of the U.S. box was easily cut out by Omar Gonzalez. But instead of clearing the ball, he looked to play out of the back. Unfortunately, his touch was heavy, and straight to Kevin De Bruyne, who squared the ball back to give Benteke a tap-in. It was another defensive error, and another unnecessary goal.
And in the 65th, the Belgians scored again. This time, a Belgian corner was poorly cleared. Terrence Boyd, just having entered for Davis, was unable to keep possession, and Belgium sent in another cross, which found Fellaini wide open at the back post to head home.
On 71 minutes, the rout was complete. The U.S. was holding a very high line, trying to shrink the field, but with the U.S. midfield failing to put enough pressure on the ball, Steven Defour had far too much time to loft a ball over the U.S. defense to a streaking Benteke, who picked it up and chipped the onrushing Guzan with ease.
The U.S. would get something of a consolation goal on the 79th minute when, after good work by Beasley to drive upfield and play in Johnson, Johnson’s cross was driven into the body of Toby Alderweireld. The ball struck his elbow against his side, but the referee may have thought it hit his outstretched hand, and awarded a PK. It was as harsh as Beasley’s uncalled PK was lenient, but Dempsey stepped up and made no mistake.
It was the last best chance for either side, and the game ended without much fanfare.
The defense a shambles: The U.S. back line continues to have serious problems. It isn’t a settled line, Cameron doesn’t look good at right back, the center backs aren’t communicating well, and DaMarcus Beasley was the best of the lot, by a mile, and he’s not even a defender.
Beasley’s a keeper: Beasley was indeed quite good, and created much of the U.S. offense in the second half, consistently winning corners. He also did an admirable job containing a variety of Belgian attackers that matched up with him. Ian Darke mentioned on the broadcast that Fabian Johnson is being considered to play in midfield, which might give Beasley the left back job permanently. That might not be a bad thing.
Stuart Holden returns: As expected, Holden made an appearance, coming on in the 81st minute. While he didn’t do much in the little time he had, it’s definitely a good thing for the U.S. to have him back. He provides something unlike any other USMNT midfielder.
Altidore down, Johnson up: Whether Altidore’s substitution was pre-planned, the result of injury, or a tactical decision, his national team tribulations continue. Johnson was much more dangerous in the second half, and seemed the most obvious source of a U.S. goal from the run of play, putting in several excellent crosses.
Matt Besler should start: Besler came on for Goodson in the 69th minute, and was superior to the man he replaced. He saved an almost-certain goal in the 85th minute with a last ditch tackle from behind on Benteke in the U.S. box, which would have resulted in a PK had he got it wrong. He didn’t.
The U.S. need to shake this one off and get back to work. Belgium gave Klinsmann a lot to think about, and Germany’s going to be better still. The good news is it was just a friendly, but this was a very bad day at the office for the U.S., and they need to be much better if they want to make the World Cup, to say nothing of doing anything once they get there.
BEL – Kevin Mirallas 6′
USA – Geoff Cameron (Clint Dempsey) 22′
BEL – Christian Benteke (Kevin De Bruyne) 56′
BEL – Marouane Fellaini (Kevin De Bruyne) 64′
BEL – Christian Benteke (Steven Defour) 71′
USA – Clint Dempsey (penalty kick) 80′
USA: 1-Tim Howard (12-Brad Guzan, 46); 20-Geoff Cameron, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 21-Clarence Goodson (5-Matt Besler, 69), 7-DaMarcus Beasley; 13-Jermaine Jones, 16-Sacha Kljestan (11-Stuart Holden, 81), 19-Graham Zusi (6-Brad Evans, 69), 24-Brad Davis (25-Terrence Boyd, 63); 8-Clint Dempsey (capt.), 17-Jozy Altidore (18-Eddie Johnson, 46)
Substitutions Not Used: 15-Michael Parkhurst, 9-Herculez Gomez
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
BEL: 1-Simon Mignolet; 2-Toby Alderweireld, 3-Thomas Vermaelen (15-Sebastien Pocognoli, 36), 4-Vincent Kompany (capt.) (16-Guillame Gillet, 72), 5-Jan Vertonghen; 6-Marouane Fellaini, 7-Kevin Mirallas, 8-Steven Defour (22-Timmy Simons, 76) 9-Romelu Lukaku (23-Thorgan Hazard, 83); 11-Kevin De Bruyne (14-Dries Mertens, 68), 18-Moussa Dembele (20-Christian Benteke, 41)
Substitutions Not Used: 12-Jean-Francois Gillet, 21-Thomas Kaminski, 13-Laurent Ciman, 17-Maxime Lestienne, 19-Jelle Vossen
Head coach: Marc Wilmots
Stats Summary: USA / BEL
Shots: 3 / 10
Shots on Goal: 2 / 8
Saves: 4 / 0
Corner Kicks: 5 / 4
Fouls: 4 / 9
Offside: 4 / 3
BEL – Timmy Simmons (Caution) 78th minute
USA – Jermaine Jones (Caution) 90
Referee: Jeffery Solis (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Osvaldo Luna (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Warner Castro (CRC)
Fourth Official: Chris Penso (USA)
Weather: 79 degrees, humid