Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
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.