I love being Mexican-American! My dual heritage allows me to root for two teams in this year’s World Cup. Mexico was sent packing two days ago, but my other team, Team U.S.A., is still in the hunt, and today, the Yanks take on the 11th ranked team in the world, Belgium, a national team that given time can field eleven English Premier League players. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann fully understands the difficult task his team will face against the Red Devils. Klinsmann has played football at the highest and most pressured levels, and he has continually conveyed to his men that they must remain mentally focused throughout every game. Today is no exception.
Mental toughness, however, has really never been an issue for the Americans. Soccer IQ is another issue, but for the most part, the team’s deficiencies arise from a simple lack of experience and talent.
Team U.S.A. is masterful at making do with the players at hand, and with Klinsmann at the helm, a man whose storied football career is still looked upon with great respect, Belgium will have to be on guard for the ultimate upset. But there is only so much Klinsmann can do.
Reaching the quarterfinals for only the second time in its history will not be easy for the U.S. Their attack has been anemic, and with Jozy Altidore still not one-hundred-percent, this is sure to continue in today’s game, unless someone can awaken Dempsey to remind him that he’s playing in the World Cup. With Dempsey as the lone striker, the Americans have been outshot 54-27, scoring four-goals and allowing four. There is talk that Altidore could see some minutes today, and, if this is true, it would be welcomed sight for the U.S. Due to his injury early in the cup. We have not had the opportunity to see what Altidore can do on this particular stage.
Of course, Dempsey is carrying a lot of weight. American fans would like to see Bradly share some of the possession responsibilities with Dempsey, but he has been making things worse by gifting the ball to the opposing team. If Bradley can display some of the flair he did as a starter at Roma, the U.S. will have more than a fighting chance against a very talented Belgium team.
Klinsmann will more than likely hit the pitch in 4-2-3-1, formation—again with Dempsey as the lone striker. This may work today, especially if Bradley and Beckerman can retain possession for significant stretches. The Red Devils have not yet faced a significant opponent in the World Cup. Remember that Belgium has qualified out of arguably the easiest group in the Cup, and they have scored only four goals, three of them coming from substitutes. The U.S.’s physicality and speed could cause panic for the Belgians, and one U.S. goal will change what Belgium has planned for the match.
Again, it’s a steep climb for the U.S. Belgium’s stingy defense has impressed more than anything. Through ten UEFA qualifiers, the Red Devils allowed only four-goals, and so far in this 2014 World Cup, they have given up only one-goal (penalty). Breaching Belgium’s defensive line will take some work. The U.S. will have to rely heavily on the element of surprise in order to get past Kompany, who is prone to giving up space and leaving his feet in Belgium’s defensive third of the field. This surprise could be a sustained and aggressive attack, something we have not yet seen from the U.S.
The goalkeeping mini-drama will be interesting, too. Tim Howard, the U.S. goalkeeper, has solidified his current ranking as one of the best keepers in the world. He has been America’s savior on more than one occasion, and today, the Yanks will rely heavily on his experience and instinctual intelligence. Belgium, too, boasts one of the sharpest keepers in the world. 6’6” Thibaut Courtois is Atletico Madrid’s gatekeeper, and he has looked every bit of sharp for the Red Devils. The deciding factor could rest in the hands of either keeper.
Don’t be surprised to see Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski on the field at the same time for the Americans. This could prove to be the element of surprise the Americans have planned. Jurgen may not be wearing long-sleeves for today’s game, but there are other places from which to pull a rabbit.