Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
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.
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