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Second-half collapse dooms USMNT in loss to Belgium

Sacha Kljestan

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CLEVELAND– The scoreboard read 1-1 at halftime of Wednesday’s friendly between Belgium and the U.S. Men’s National Team, but the first 45 minutes were far from even. Belgium had the better of the play, but the Americans fought hard enough to keep things even mid-way through the match.

The second half was a much different story, and provided a harsh reminder of the gulf in class between the teams on the field Wednesday night.

Belgium scored three unanswered goals to blow open a match that was even on the scoreboard in the first half, if not in terms of quality. Christian Benteke scored a pair of second-half goals on Aston Villa teammate Brad Guzan to help complete the romp and leave the Americans stunned after allowing three goals in 15 minutes.

Clint Dempsey’s 80th-minute penalty kick made the score a bit more respectable, but offered little consolation on a night when Belgium thoroughly dominated and the U.S. defense crumbled in a 4-2 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“We talked about that before the game, that we want to play simpler out of the back, not making things complicated,” Klinsmann said in his post-match press conference. “Here and there we always look for the complicated ball, instead of just carrying it through the midfield, playing to people’s feet, moving off the ball, and keep it simple.”

Belgium got out to an early lead when Miralles chipped the ball over the head of his club teammate Tim Howard in the 6th minute, taking advantage of a spilled rebound from Howard on a close range chance from Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku.

“We obviously, at this level, we need to tighten up,” Howard said. “Yes, they have firepower, but most of the teams we’re going to come up against are going to have firepower. It’s on us to put the other team on our terms defensively.”

Cameron brought the crowd of 27,720 to their feet in the 22nd minute, taking a pass across the face of goal from Dempsey and finishing past Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet from inside the six yard box.

“It was good to finally get one on a positive note, (especially) with the own goal against Scotland (in 2012),” Cameron said. “That’s why I’m there on the corner kicks: to hopefully get my head on the end of it and I’m just glad I got one and hopefully there’s many more to come.”

The U.S. took a 1-1 scoreline into the half, but the introduction of Benteke in the 41st minute paid dividends in the second half. He scored his first goal with a short range finish in the 56th minute off a Brad Davis turnover, and his second came latching onto a beautiful through ball from Belgium midfielder Steven Defour in the 71st minute before chipping substitute U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan, his teammate at Aston Villa.

Fellaini added Belgium’s third goal of the evening, taking advantage of a poor clearance from a corner kick by Klinsmann’s squad, heading in at the far post from a cross by teammate Kevin De Bruyne.

“Every mistake that the U.S. made, we scored a goal,” De Bruyne said. “I think in football it’s very important when you create chances you score them. I think the U.S. didn’t create chances, and that’s a strong point of our Belgium team.”

Dempsey added a consolation goal in the 80th minute, scoring from the penalty spot after Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld handled the ball in the area. A minute later, Stuart Holden made his long awaited return to the national team, entering the field for Sacha Kljestan.

The three second half goals conceded by the U.S. all occurred from numerous defensive miscues in their own defensive third, putting themselves under unnecessary pressure and eventually, failing. Inexperienced defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler made mistakes, but were thrown into the gauntlet with the hopes that they’d be ready for the difficult three game World Cup qualifying stretch.

“This is why we want to play teams like Belgium and like Germany, because there is so much that you can read from those games, so much that you can see,” Klinsmann said. “That’s what players like Gonzalez, Besler, and other young players coming through, see top class players against them, proven players with qualities and that’s why they play for big clubs.

Howard, though he played just 45 minutes, understood the reasoning for playing an up and coming world power like Belgium.

“It’s to keep challenging ourselves and I think when you challenge yourself at this level you run the risk of getting taken to the woodshed a few times, Howard said. “I think it’s better than playing a team that we can dominate and is kind of a cakewalk for us. I think these games are better, and will serve us better in the long run, but time will tell.”

Klinsmann summed up the spirit of the friendly, focusing on the long-term gains from the performances as opposed to sticking with the short-term pains from losing.

“Obviously we want to win them, but I’d rather play Belgium 10 more times then El Salvador the 100th time, because that’s where you learn,” Klinsmann said.


Prior to the start of the match, DaMarcus Beasley was honored with his mother and father on the field for winning his 100th cap. It was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. in the match.

The USMNT will travel to Washington D.C. on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s friendly vs. Germany at RFK Stadium.

Wednesday’s 4-2 loss marked the second time the USMNT conceded four goals under Klinsmann. The other time was the team’s 4-1 loss to Brazil on May 30th, 2012 at FedEx Field.

Geoff Cameron’s goal was the first of his U.S. Men’s National Team career.


What did you think of the match?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Today all they should work on is attacking loose balls in the box and getting them out of play. Three of the goals you could really view as coming off a failed clearance. I don’t feel like Belgium controlled the game, however they made the US pay for every mental mistake on the night.

  2. The players were not to blame. All fingers point directly to the coach, and you need look no further than the lineup card to see where he went wrong. He never even gives his players a chance because he insists on proving his mad-genius by playing them out of position or in partnerships that make no sense. Sure, let’s throw Sacha and Jones together when they have no chemistry. Let’s have Jozy and Dempsey take turns getting lost on an island waiting for Zusi to cross it over the area. Let’s play Cameron, who excels as a defender who can distribute, out of position on the outside right where he lacks the pace to recover in defense or attack down the wing and has no crossing quality.

    It’s a shame that we know the solution while the coach spits into the wind to prove a point. We have two natural wing players in our pool and one is in the dog house while the other is played, again, out of position. Beasley, to his credit, puts in his shifts, but he’s just too easy to beat, and, though he has the speed to mask some of his defensive errors, he can’t outrun the ball.

    I sense some of you feel Fabian Johnson is some magic salve who will solve our width problem, but it’s glaringly obvious that our team lacks chemistry and creativity inside and out, and those problems are proving to be systemic. The players are on their own, it seems, and that was to my mind the most worrisome aspect of that Sporting News piece that came out a while back. The only quality we bring is the same dogged American, grind-it-out and hope for a bounce style that made us sick of Bob Bradley. At this point, I’d be fine giving the reigns back to Bruce Arena if it meant packing up this circus act. We have the players but the coach just isn’t getting the best out of them. It’s the same reason Bayern Munchen gave him the boot.

    • I was never a Klinsmann fan. That said, the only reason to change the coach now is that it is so much easier to fire one guy and find a replacement than it is to find replacements for all the players. Still, I would not advocate doing that. OTOH, didn’t Mexico go 2 or 3 coaches in the last cycle of WC qualifying?

      • Re: Fire the coach

        Chepo took over a program that already had a strong identity and lots of good players to back it up. He just had to be a good manager.

        JK and the successor you are proposing for him do not have nearly that kind of luxury.

        Fire JK now and the next guy will have to take over in the middle of JK’s rebuilding process with a year to go before the WC and qualification not yet assured.

        It could be done but they should probably fire JK before the next Jamaica game.

        There are any number of decent stopgaps who could do it most notably Arena, Schmid, Kinnear or Kreis but it’s likely they will have to revert to “Bradley Ball”. If that happens you guys will be whining and moaning even more than you are now.

        Many of you are looking at this Belgium game as if it is a barometer of where the team is headed when the reality is that this was a patchwork team, coming back from a long break, trying some new wrinkles with am excessively talented opponent who actually took the game seriously.

        Given that I’m surprised they did not approach double figures in goals. 6-1 would actually have been an appropriate score.

  3. Kudos to Klinsmann for getting a game like this scheduled. In years past, we would be playing guam or canada or somebody. I think this is one of but not the only distinct advantages klinsmann brings as a coach.

  4. Ives, no mention of the one bright spot: Beasley had another fantastic game. MOM for the US, and on his 100th cap. A great story that goes unwritten.

    Fabian Johnson has his hands full for that left back spot, which I feel is Beasley’s to lose right now. I never thought I would see him in a US kit again, no less playing at this level.

    • By comparison he was great, but his most impressive stretches of play resulted in silly giveaways or were bits of defensive hustle only necessary because he was beaten to begin with. He and Fabian could play that left-side where they each under- and overlap each other, but we would still sorely lack defensive stability without a pair of holding midfielders to cover. If I have to choose only one, Fabian is the more sturdy option.

  5. Another typical outing of USA soccer under Klinsi.I am honestly beginning to despise watching matches where Klinsi constantly puts people out of position leaving the team in a scrambled mess. This match, as any match where we have quality opponents, showed once again how the lack of depth at every position hurts the team. I will admit that I was relieved to finally see Klejstan in his primary position (not that he played well), but I believe what hurt the us the most was once again Zusi and Cameron. Zusi is not an outside mid, he lacks pace and movement. While he has some confidence on the ball and quality passing abilities, he clearly doesn’t know the positioning and movements of players on the wing. Who are we kidding, DONOVAN is the only man for the job. Even now, he is top 3, with Bradley and Demp. Davis, wasn’t much better. He lacked energy and pace, although he at least plays the position regularly. I’d rather see EJ and his pace on the wing, he was the primary threat the US had all game. But, I think Beasley is the best option to play LM, now he has experience defending and can track back. Out of the 11 midfielders called up by Klins, 3 are natural outside midfielders, WHAT IS HE THINKING? It also doesn’t help that right behind Zusi is Cameron who is a natural CB/CDM. He obviously is capable of the defensive responsibilities, but Cameron lacks pace and any offensive qualities found in RBs. Out of the 9 defenders called up, 3 are natural leftbacks (beasley LM), and the rest are centerbacks, leaving Parkhurst as the lone RB. Best case I see Fab John or Castillo at LB, Cherundolo at RB or even Chandler (i know there both injured but at least call in some natural RBs).

    These out of position players are hurting the entire play of the team. I believe Dempsey and Altidore are being left out to dry. I know Altidore struggled with the service he received, but lets be honest, Jones and Klejstan are 30 yards behind and Dempsey is in between and Altidore is left all alone because Zusi and Davis are too slow to catch up. Half of Altidore (and any striker) service were 40 yard balls played in by Gonzo anyways. I hate to keep reiterating this, but we need Donovan. Even when he cuts inside, he is a solid presence and has the ability and confidence to push FORWARD in the oppositions half. Yes things would have been different with Bradley, but without proper support from the wings, its hard to play the lone striker with a bunch of paceless outside mids.

    Who would I like to see start against Germany? Altidore @ Foward. Dempsey right behind. Bradley and Jones @ CDM. EJ on the right, and Beasley on the left. Cameron, and Besler @ CB and F. Johnson & Parkhurst @ outside backs.

  6. Beasley lost track of players twice that led to goals. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BEASLEY IS A WINGER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Beasley is not mentally sharp in the defensive scheme of things..his instincts and anticipation as a defender are not as sharp as it needs to be on the International level..maybe against Barbados, but not Belgium, Germany, Slovenia. etc….How come Klinnsman cannot see this himself? Put Beasley in at LW..he is a lock at LW…on the depth chart Beasley should be a #1 or #2 LW. Congratulations on 100 caps Beasley. This was a game for Castillo tonight, but Klinnsman remains so naive or just dumb.

    • That and he is small so when being strong matters (and it does in physical battles in tight spaces) he is at a disadvantage. But he was not the back who made the most mental errors, that honor goes to the other 3 backs who outdid him in the going to sleep category.


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