It’s Tuesday Night Football.
Party at Kljestan’s!
The United States is in Europe Tuesday as they conclude the second match of their first true camp under Jurgen Klinsmann.
As sure as the opponent and match location are the diametrically opposite to the Home Depot Center and Costa Rica…is the approach and stature of Klinsmann and his predecessor Bob Bradley.
Whereas Bradley was given a short tether and media statements around him were perennially stamped with the almost-infamous phrase “get results,” Klinsmann’s early term has been marked with a draw and now a home loss against a Costa Rican side that played about as organized as a pick-up team from the San José barrio.
Tuesday? The United States will face much stiffer competition in Belgium–a team that boasts quite a bit of talent, but never seems to compile it well all at once.
In fact, many of the Red Devils can be readily identified by their clubs (Chelsea, PSV, Arsenal, Manchester City, Benfica, Lille and more) and by their lone last names as well: Fellaini, Vermaelen, Kompany, Lukaku, and Hazard.
Despite those names adorning their kits, Belgium comes off a pedestrian effort; a 1-1 draw in the Euro qualifiers on Friday against Azerbaijan.
The Red Devils had a slight advantage in possession and more than a triple advantage in opportunities, but could only muster a penalty kick for their lone tally from 34-year-old Nuremburg greybeard Timmy Simons.
That said, the United States simplistically controlled the run of play with fundamental checkbacks in the 1st half against Costa Rica while appearing worn out in the 2nd half, offering up a goal on an odd man run that was the difference maker.
Should the States play defense anywhere near how they did the entire match against Costa Rica the final scoreline might make USSF cringe–rightly or wrongly–at the opening salvo from Heir Klinsmann.
On to our official USA vs. Belgium preview. As usual we go:
About The Opponent
TSG What Are Looking For
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent:
Conspiracy theory? Sunil Gulati knew Klinsmann was his man immediately after the Gold Cup final and asked the German who he wanted his September friendlies against.
Evidence? Belgium plays a similar 4-1-2-3 to the formation the United States has used in its two previous games.
Belgium employs Chelsea wunderkind and Didier Drogba carbon copy Romelu Lukaku at striker–though a teenager, Lukaku is explosive and shortly should take the reins up top for the Blues at Stamford Bridge.
That and Belgium doesn’t get it’s fullbacks up the pitch nearly as much as Klinsmann hopes his make it Tuesday.
In fact, rightback Toby Alderweireld is a centerback by trade for Ajax. (He’s still loop in some crosses for the massive target afro of Marouane Fellaini.)
Wait…did someone say Fellaini?!
TSG What Are We Looking For:
• The best defense better be a good offense
While media raved about the United States attacking combination play, TSG will play the role of wet blanket here.
Costa Rica’s defense was shambolic. The play by the US fundamentally sound at times, but elementary in nature.
Simple checkbacks with an overlapping winger or defender usually easily opened up Costa Rica in the 1st half.
When the Ticos finally adjusted at halftime, the simple deep-dropping of Jose Torres and Landon Donovan around the halfline to start the offense and of Jozy Altidore and eventually Juan Agudelo in the attacking third was not as effective.
That said, you can commend Team Klinsmann on two things that were begged for, nay, starved for during the Bob Bradley era.
Movement off the ball. The US had this in abundance–yes abundance–in the 1st half Friday night.
Jozy Altidore had multiple offside calls on him this game. That is a sign of an attacker working the backline. (Yes, some of those offsides were due to indecision by Robbie Rogers, but nevertheless.)
Secondly, the US attempted to dictate the play and tempo to Costa Rica. That, if you recall, was the #2 critical question that Bob Bradley had trouble answering in the Gold Cup.
Both the offball movement and willingness to keep possession enabled the US to protect a backline that was lucky not to be exposed more often by their CONCACAF foes.
On Tuesday, Belgium will have more attacking verve and talent in possession. Could be a long day for the States. How will they cope with the increased speed of play and more talent on the other side of the ball?
• Clint Dempsey’s role
This will be the Deuce’s first match under the new skipper.
The US attack Friday involved staccato ball movement and less time per player on the ball unless they were counterattacking.
Dempsey thrives–even more so the past year and a half–with the ball at his feet.
How will Klinsmann deploy him and will he be comfortable perhaps being a cog in the machine to start?
• The Yin and the Yang of the outside backs
Tim Chandler on Friday? Strong on the ball. Picking out drag runs to the corner with radar-like passing. Cutting in when necessary to create opportunities.
The US rightback of the future looked every bit the Bundesliga professional that he is fast becoming.
What could be more scary about Chandler is that he is still very raw. First touches are good, but lack finesse. Crosses easily earned but scatter-shot at times.
For Edgar Castillo, the pace of the game was a challenge.
Errant with passes and irresponsible in possession, the Costa Ricans looked to challenge Castillo’s side often in the second half after his challenges in defense in the first. A stronger team makes him pay on the night.
On Tuesday, which way does Klinsmann go? Best bet? Steve Cherundolo slots back in at rightback to take on Eden Hazard whilst Tim Chandler moves to the left to take on Dries Mertens.
11 At The Whistle
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: TSG went with the bet of Bill Hamid as a surprise starter against Costa Rica. Not again; can’t see Hamid coming on against a tougher side for his first start in Europe.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Chandler
The skinny: Cherundolo is in town and slots in at rightback prompting Chandler’s move to leftback. Call it a reverse Gold Cup Final thing. Goodson replaces the positionally deficient Michael Orozco at centerback.
CDM: Kyle Beckerman
The skinny: There’s a great story about Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand during Ferdinand’s dawning days at Manchester United.
Ferdinand in practice once played an easy square pass to a teammate under duress. Keane lit into him, admonishing him for not passing the ball forward. “It’s fucking easy going sideways, pass it forward. This is United.”
The point? Maurice Edu was tidy in defense on Friday, but average in possession while Beckerman–playing for Real Salt Lake–banged in the game winning shot from outside the 18.
Beckerman gets the start as he offers more going forward.
CM: Jose Torres, Sacha Kljestan
The skinny: Jose Torres had a solid game in a US shirt Friday.
Sacha Kljestan gets Landon Donovan’s spot in the midfield with Klinsmann doing the anti-Bradley and giving the Californian the start in front of the Brussels crowd he plays his club ball in front of.
LM/RM: Brek Shea, Clint Dempsey
The skinny: The Deuce enters on the outside and hopefully shows the way for The Man Who Would Be Deuce (that’s an aggressive compliment), Brek Shea.
STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: A love-hate relationship with Jozy Altidore. Surprised the broadcasters didn’t make the easy observation that Altidore has clearly lost some pounds off his frame.
Frustrating that it took him until now to do it.
Altidore will continue as the starter for now if he continues to be assertive with the ball. If not, Agudelo is a lot closer than people think.
» Edu remains in the holding, defensive cover role and Beckerman joins Torres in the creative central roles.
The skinny: A matter of preference for Klinsmann who was high on Beckerman’s Mexico came. It’s possible.
» The 4-4-2 returns.
The skinny: Can’t see this happening for two reasons: (1) Klinsmann has been intent on developing the flanks. That means keeping instructing his strikers to be judicious in their off-ball movement. Hard enough to develop “action” for one; two’s a crowd and (2) Landon Donovan remains the US’s fastest player moving forward–with or without the ball. Neither striker threatens the opponent’s backline with speed. Hence, redundancy.