U.S. Men's National Team

Contenders for more USMNT playing time come up short vs. Belgium

Sacha Kljestan, Christian Benteke

Photo by ISIphotos.com


CLEVELAND – Wednesday night’s match against Belgium was supposed to be a golden opportunity for some U.S. Men’s National Team players to stake their claims to starting spots, or at the very least improve positions on the depth chart.

By the end of Wednesday’s 4-2 Belgium triumph at FirstEnergy Stadium, there were few clearcut bright spots and no real examples of players taking full advantage of their chance to impress U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Omar Gonzalez, Sacha Kljestan and Brad Davis were among the players handed starts on Wednesday, but none of the three stood out as top performers for the Americans. As much as Belgium would cause problems for even top players, the three failed to capitalize on their opportunities and admittedly did not enjoy their finest outings.

Take Gonzalez, for instance. The LA Galaxy centerback was involved in both Kevin Mirallas’ sixth-minute opener and Christian Benteke’s tie-breaking goal in the 56th minute, plays that overshadowed some of the good that Gonzalez delivered in just his seventh cap and also raised questions as to whether he will be one of the starters at centerback when the matches become more meaningful in a couple weeks’ time.

“I’m not going to say that I did great or I did poor but I thought it was a fun game to be a part of and definitely a learning experience,” Gonzalez told SBI. “I wished that I could have played these kind of games earlier in my career but I’m playing them now and I just have to learn from what’s going on and keep on moving forward and hope that I can learn quickly and just look forward to the next game.”

Gonzalez was not totally to blame for Belgium’s first two goals and he did enjoy some decent moments in the game, as he was his usual dominant self in the air and also came close to scoring on a header in the second half. Still, the two plays Gonzalez will most be remembered for in this match were the ones that cost the U.S. goals and the 6-foot-5 defender knows that those type of errors need to be weeded out and fast.

“The play is definitely faster but it’s not something that I don’t think I can handle,” said Gonzalez. “I think I’m ready to be out here and that’s why Jurgen has me playing, because he believes in me and I believe in myself and I want to be out here representing the country.

“Let’s just hope that during these friendlies, these mistakes can happen but during the qualifiers they cannot happen. I want to be focused enough so that I can get these things out of here now against these teams and then hopefully not do (in) the future.”

Kljestan was not directly involved in the U.S. conceding four times, but he also failed to replicate the type of play that has made him a standout at Belgian club Anderlecht. Part of the reason for that was his lack of understanding with central midfield partner Jermaine Jones, whose rangy runs left Kljestan isolated often.

That lack of understanding was not entirely to blame for Kljestan’s struggles, though. The veteran midfielder failed to hit the mark on some simple short passes and afterwards admitted that he did not perform to the best of his abilities.

“The coaches gave me a couple of points to try to focus on tonight: One was to join into the attack and try to make some late runs into the box, which I tried to do but the service didn’t really come,” said Kljestan. “The second thing was try and control the tempo of the game when I had the ball, which I thought I did pretty well at that. In the first half, things got a little bit hectic and we were getting tired already and we had to slow it down a bit, so I think I did that all right. Overall, an okay game.”

As for Davis, he struggled to make an impact during his 63 minutes on the field. Davis was involved in helping set up Geoff Cameron’s equalizer in the 22nd minute but that was one of few notable contributions from the Houston Dynamo ace in a game where the U.S. could have used more from their flank players.

While Davis acknowledged there is room for improvement, he was confident that he did enough to see more playing time in the near future. Davis also credited Klinsmann with setting a tone that let players know one bad performance alone wouldn’t necessarily doom their chances to earn more looks.

“Jurgen does a good job of saying it’s not a pressure situation. ‘You know there’s going to be other opportunities to play so go out and be yourself’,” Davis said of Klinsmann’s words of encouragement. “(Klinsmann has told me) This isn’t going to make or break you unless I had a complete blunder and I don’t think that happened.

“I think I did some good things. I think it’s a good game to build on, creating a partnership (with left back DaMarcus Beasley) and I definitely think that performance will get me some looks so overall I thought it was an alright first game with the first team.”

Kljestan, Davis and Gonzalez all may have felt like they played relatively well on Wednesday, but time will tell whether Klinsmann agreed. The opportunities, or lack therefore, that they receive in the team’s upcoming matches will show whether they helped, or hurt, their U.S. standings on Wednesday night.

  • Clark

    I haven’t read through all the comments so someone might have brought this up before, but what is most startling to me is the lack of accountability the three highlighted players took in their post-game quotes. Kljestan says he had an “Okay game” and was able to “control the tempo when he had the ball.” Does anyone else find this absolutely ridiculous? How can you get better if you consider losing 4-2 and clearly playing terribly an “okay game?” Gonzalez makes a 2 critical errors that lead to goals, as a CB that AUTOMATICALLY means you had a terrible game and need to clean that up. Davis did a couple things, but nothing worthwhile to assume he’ll get another chance (which he say he thinks he will). Anytime you give up four goals at home and lose by two (should have been three), you should only be saying it was a “terrible” game.

    I wasn’t too concerned about the result because Belgium is very talented, and it’s a friendly, but it is concerning to see little accountability for a poor performance. Sure the US will probably qualify for the WC but they’ll be lucky to get out of the group with this mindset and I know none of us will consider that “Okay.”


  • Nephi

    The one thing i always hated when coaching was a forward who bitched about not seeing enough ball and made do runs to get the ball. If you are making your self open and running off the ball and not getting the ball then K you have a resason to be mad. But i hate seeing are offense just sit there and not make runs and not do something to create chances. The only one i trully saw do this was EJ.


  • Brain Guy

    The optimist in me wants to say that this was a good “put up or shut up” game for guys like Davis and Klejstan. Could they show some quality, some spark against a very high-quality opponent? A stern test, but a good opportunity for them to overcome some bad grades/perceived limitations based on previous MNT appearances and/or club play. I think we all saw what they can and can’t do when the pressure is on. It’s valuable information for JK as he finalizes his depth chart for the three upcoming qualifiers. (This may explain why Beasley was used at RB — to give the LW spot to Davis.) The pessimist in me, though, wants to scream that well into the final round of qualifying, JK still doesn’t seem to know who his back four will be. That horror show last night reminded me of the bad old days when good opponents habitually made the US defense look amateurish.


  • Hush

    Garbage performance, and Sasha still proves to me he’s a plain garbage. I’m sick and tired of saying the same type players being called. We have no one on our NT who is technical and offers something different! All we have is midfielders who are 46 buddy Ryan type players who can’t even do that well…. If wack players like Sasha, Evans, Zusi etc. Get called in, JK needs to give players who have shown that they can play in a NT at a high level as well… Freddy F’en Adu. Our Gio Dos santos….Very simple. He has never let down the NT… I believe he lives for only the NT. I don’t care if he’s at home playing Xbox or partying 24-7,… The man shows up every time in a NT jersey. All I want and most fans can agree is “creating some offense”,.. that’s all.

    Please, also stop the whole,..”oooh, .here we go again with Adu’s name being the savior of the NT”. That’s just stupid and straight up hating. It makes no sense! He’s the best we got, simple as that. We are not Argentina or Brazil, we work on what we got in our pool. Sasha and Zusi is not our answer.. never will be. They have not shown jack up front or in the back. Adu is the best creator we have, and he has shown it time after time in a NT jersey… “Oh, I’m surprise it took this long for his name to come up”- dumbest repetitive comment I read here on SBI


    • Been There

      I’m always up for more Adu but it appears that train has left the station. Best offensive performances we’ve had in recent years involved Bradley, Donovan, Dempsey and Adu. Unfortunately our coach is stubbornly omitting two of those players from his camps.

      I’m probably also one of the only people who was actually pleasantly surprised by Davis’ performance so you’ll have to consider the company that agrees with you. I thought he was decent on the ball and provided some threating balls but unfortunately had nobody on the end of them. I could see he or Zusi working with the likes of a Donavan, Torres, EJ or Adu but not together. Neither one moves well with or without the ball but could provide services for other players from the wing. Call me crazy.


      • Brain Guy

        Sincere (not snarky) question: refresh my memory as to the “best offensive performances” involving Adu. I have honestly forgotten when Adu last suited up for the MNT.


      • Nate Dollars

        believe it was in the 2011 gold cup final against mexico. he played well.


    • biff

      @Hush: Sold! I’ll take one. How much does it cost?

      I’m serious. That is a dam good comment. You convinced me.


    • wandmdave

      I wish Adu would get a start against a team like Belgium or Germany just so he can fall on his face and we can stop seeing these ridiculous comments.


      • Hush

        Please, make a video displaying all the horrible things Adu has made while in a NT jersey? I believe you are SBI influence on the Adu hate which I simply can’t understand. If this guy had a citizenship to play for Mexico, I guarantee he would be in the starting 11 going HAM on us.

        Please, explain the Adu hate? I would understand if the lets us down in a NT jersey, but the facts is, he has absolutely taken advantage of that everytime. .. Yet no sniff in JK’s plans …


      • Nate Dollars

        like he fell on his face against spain? or argentina? or mexico?

        if your comment doesn’t portray a “hater”, i don’t know what does.


  • chris thebassplayer

    Yeah, that was ugly, but expected. Germany is going to be an ugly game and Jamaica away is going to be a physical ugly game. The LD situation will get bigger a bigger and after Jamaica, people will calling for JK’s head again. Then we’ll win the two home games and move on. It’s a slow build. We’re still a couple cycles away from having enough difference makers on the field. That is the bottom line. Belgium is the correct measuring stick, not Mexico.


  • gray3620

    Belgian has 7 or 8 players in the EPL. It shows. they took the U.S. team to school. The U.S. as far as I am concerned is still learning the game. They play timid wth no creativity. Davis with the Dynamo is a great player but last nite, he looked completely lost. No crosses that are his trademark. The U.S. needs a playmaker, a midfielder with vision to ditribute the ball. Jozy is learning to be a good striker but he needs help. Cameron gets caught out of position alot and pays for it. This was not a good game for them and Sunday, I am afraid it will be more of the same.


  • VMan

    crap performance and I agree with most of the criticisms being leveled against Klinsmann here. The one that I somewhat take exception with is that Donovan is somehow the missing piece. Truth is, I haven’t seen Donovan look like a consistent game-changer/difference-maker since the 2010 WC. During the 2011 Gold Cup I thought it looked like he had lost a step and nothing he’s done since then has changed my mind. He hasn’t been an effective wing player for the past couple of years with the national team and I thought that perhaps he might be better suited to run off Jozy up front than out on the right where he was delivering crosses from shallow areas because he was not able to get deep past his marker anymore. I dunno, that’s been my impression. Perhaps the time off has suited him but I just don’t think the 2013 version of Donovan is quite the missing piece that some will have us believe.


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