Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — If the U.S. Men’s National Team is to play Belgium in Brazil this summer, it will have to wait at least until the Round of 16 at the World Cup.
U.S. Soccer announced on Wednesday afternoon that the scheduled closed-door scrimmage vs. Belgium on Thursday has been canceled after the Rode Duivels head coach Marc Wilmots expressed traffic concerns in reaching the Americans’ base in Sao Paulo. Traffic has been one of the major issues in the southern Brazilian city in recent days and the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia is set to be played in Sao Paulo on Thursday.
The U.S. will now hold two training sessions on Thursday in preparation for its World Cup opener against Ghana in Natal on June 16.
The cancellation of the match is a late development, and one that comes a mere hour-and-a-half after U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players talked about the approach going into the game.
“For us, it’s a training scrimmage and training scrimmages are never as intense and physical as a normal World Cup preparation game,” said Klinsmann. “We want to give every player 45 minutes. We have a very good relationship with Belgium and myself with their coach, so that’s why we came up (with the idea). They’re just around the corner here (in Sao Paulo). It’s a really good training session and keeps us in a flow.”
The Americans and Belgium could still meet this summer, though with much more at stake. The U.S. is in Group G and Belgium in Group H, and the two nations could square off as soon as in the first round of the knockout phase of the competition if results go a certain way.
With no scrimmage now on the schedule, the U.S. has finished its World Cup preparations against other teams. Klinsmann’s side beat Nigeria, 2-1, in Jacksonville, Florida, this past Saturday and it was only going to play Belgium in a less-competitive setting so as to get the players back in a rhythm.
“Just to get the legs moving again,” said Jozy Altidore when asked what he thought the U.S. could get out of the game.
The U.S. last played Belgium in May 2013, suffering a 4-2 loss in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to that, the Americans were on the losing end of a 1-0 affair vs. Belgium in Brussels back in September 2011.
What do you make of this news? Surprised the cancellation came down to traffic concerns? Think it does not matter much that the U.S. won’t be playing another team before facing Ghana?
Share your thoughts below.