TSG’s USA vs. Belgium Preview: Who’s Got The Muscles In Brussels?

Young Agudelo will likely get his first USMNT Euro cap... (Photo credit: Matt Mathai...of course)

It’s Tuesday Night Football.

USA. Belgium.

Party at Kljestan’s!

The United States is in Europe Tuesday as they conclude the second match of their first true camp under Jurgen Klinsmann.

As sure as the opponent and match location are the diametrically opposite to the Home Depot Center and Costa Rica…is the approach and stature of Klinsmann and his predecessor Bob Bradley.

Klinsmann, focused on the attack in the early going of his tenure...

Whereas Bradley was given a short tether and media statements around him were perennially stamped with the almost-infamous phrase “get results,” Klinsmann’s early term has been marked with a draw and now a home loss against a Costa Rican side that played about as organized as a pick-up team from the San José barrio.

Tuesday? The United States will face much stiffer competition in Belgium–a team that boasts quite a bit of talent, but never seems to compile it well all at once.

In fact, many of the Red Devils can be readily identified by their clubs (Chelsea, PSV, Arsenal, Manchester City, Benfica, Lille and more) and by their lone last names as well: Fellaini, Vermaelen, Kompany, Lukaku, and Hazard.

Despite those names adorning their kits, Belgium comes off a pedestrian effort; a 1-1 draw in the Euro qualifiers on Friday against Azerbaijan.

The Red Devils had a slight advantage in possession and more than a triple advantage in opportunities, but could only muster a penalty kick for their lone tally from 34-year-old Nuremburg greybeard Timmy Simons.

That said, the United States simplistically controlled the run of play with fundamental checkbacks in the 1st half against Costa Rica while appearing worn out in the 2nd half, offering up a goal on an odd man run that was the difference maker.

Should the States play defense anywhere near how they did the entire match against Costa Rica the final scoreline might make USSF cringe–rightly or wrongly–at the opening salvo from Heir Klinsmann.

On to our official USA vs. Belgium preview. As usual we go:

About The Opponent

TSG What Are Looking For

11 At The Whistle



The Belgium front four--quite an abundance of attacking prowess...


About The Opponent:

Conspiracy theory? Sunil Gulati knew Klinsmann was his man immediately after the Gold Cup final and asked the German who he wanted his September friendlies against.

Evidence? Belgium plays a similar 4-1-2-3 to the formation the United States has used in its two previous games.


Lukaku, formerly of Sacha Kljestan's Anderlecht...

Belgium employs Chelsea wunderkind and Didier Drogba carbon copy Romelu Lukaku at striker–though a teenager, Lukaku is explosive and shortly should take the reins up top for the Blues at Stamford Bridge.

That and Belgium doesn’t get it’s fullbacks up the pitch nearly as much as Klinsmann hopes his make it Tuesday.

In fact, rightback Toby Alderweireld is a centerback by trade for Ajax. (He’s still loop in some crosses for the massive target afro of Marouane Fellaini.)

Wait…did someone say Fellaini?!


TSG What Are We Looking For:

• The best defense better be a good offense

While media raved about the United States attacking combination play, TSG will play the role of wet blanket here.

Costa Rica’s defense was shambolic. The play by the US fundamentally sound at times, but elementary in nature.

Simple checkbacks with an overlapping winger or defender usually easily opened up Costa Rica in the 1st half.

When the Ticos finally adjusted at halftime, the simple deep-dropping of Jose Torres and Landon Donovan around the halfline to start the offense and of Jozy Altidore and eventually Juan Agudelo in the attacking third was not as effective.

That said, you can commend Team Klinsmann on two things that were begged for, nay, starved for during the Bob Bradley era.

Movement off the ball. The US had this in abundance–yes abundance–in the 1st half Friday night.

Jozy, challening the line off the ball as well...

Get this.

Jozy Altidore had multiple offside calls on him this game. That is a sign of an attacker working the backline. (Yes, some of those offsides were due to indecision by Robbie Rogers, but nevertheless.)

Secondly, the US attempted to dictate the play and tempo to Costa Rica. That, if you recall, was the #2 critical question that Bob Bradley had trouble answering in the Gold Cup.

Both the offball movement and willingness to keep possession enabled the US to protect a backline that was lucky not to be exposed more often by their CONCACAF foes.

On Tuesday, Belgium will have more attacking verve and talent in possession. Could be a long day for the States. How will they cope with the increased speed of play and more talent on the other side of the ball?

• Clint Dempsey’s role

The Fulham man with his eighth coach in the past six years for club and country...

This will be the Deuce’s first match under the new skipper.

The US attack Friday involved staccato ball movement and less time per player on the ball unless they were counterattacking.

Dempsey thrives–even more so the past year and a half–with the ball at his feet.

How will Klinsmann deploy him and will he be comfortable perhaps being a cog in the machine to start?

• The Yin and the Yang of the outside backs

Tim Chandler on Friday? Strong on the ball. Picking out drag runs to the corner with radar-like passing. Cutting in when necessary to create opportunities.

The US rightback of the future looked every bit the Bundesliga professional that he is fast becoming.

What could be more scary about Chandler is that he is still very raw. First touches are good, but lack finesse. Crosses easily earned but scatter-shot at times.

"Hazardous" to whom?

For Edgar Castillo, the pace of the game was a challenge.

Errant with passes and irresponsible in possession, the Costa Ricans looked to challenge Castillo’s side often in the second half after his challenges in defense in the first. A stronger team makes him pay on the night.

On Tuesday, which way does Klinsmann go? Best bet? Steve Cherundolo slots back in at rightback to take on Eden Hazard whilst Tim Chandler moves to the left to take on Dries Mertens.


11 At the Whistle in the attack...

11 At The Whistle

G: Tim Howard

The skinny: TSG went with the bet of Bill Hamid as a surprise starter against Costa Rica. Not again; can’t see Hamid coming on against a tougher side for his first start in Europe.

DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Chandler

The skinny: Cherundolo is in town and slots in at rightback prompting Chandler’s move to leftback. Call it a reverse Gold Cup Final thing. Goodson replaces the positionally deficient Michael Orozco at centerback.

Beckerman, on the ball against Mexico...

CDM: Kyle Beckerman

The skinny: There’s a great story about Roy Keane and  Rio Ferdinand during Ferdinand’s dawning days at Manchester United.

Ferdinand in practice once played an easy square pass to a teammate under duress. Keane lit into him, admonishing him for not passing the ball forward. “It’s fucking easy going sideways, pass it forward. This is United.”

The point? Maurice Edu was tidy in defense on Friday, but average in possession while Beckerman–playing for Real Salt Lake–banged in the game winning shot from outside the 18.

Beckerman gets the start as he offers more going forward.

CM: Jose Torres, Sacha Kljestan

The skinny: Jose Torres had a solid game in a US shirt Friday.

Sacha Kljestan gets Landon Donovan’s spot in the midfield with Klinsmann doing the anti-Bradley and giving the Californian the start in front of the Brussels crowd he plays his club ball in front of.

LM/RM: Brek Shea, Clint Dempsey

The skinny: The Deuce enters on the outside and hopefully shows the way for The Man Who Would Be Deuce (that’s an aggressive compliment), Brek Shea.

STR: Jozy Altidore

The skinny: A love-hate relationship with Jozy Altidore. Surprised the broadcasters didn’t make the easy observation that Altidore has clearly lost some pounds off his frame.

Frustrating that it took him until now to do it.

Altidore will continue as the starter for now if he continues to be assertive with the ball. If not, Agudelo is a lot closer than people think.


» Edu remains in the holding, defensive cover role and Beckerman joins Torres in the creative central roles.

Odds: 30%

The skinny: A matter of preference for Klinsmann who was high on Beckerman’s Mexico came. It’s possible.

» The 4-4-2 returns.

Odds: 15%

The skinny: Can’t see this happening for two reasons: (1) Klinsmann has been intent on developing the flanks. That means keeping instructing his strikers to be judicious in their off-ball movement. Hard enough to develop “action” for one; two’s a crowd and (2) Landon Donovan remains the US’s fastest player moving forward–with or without the ball. Neither striker threatens the opponent’s backline with speed. Hence, redundancy.

43 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bob on 2011/09/06 at 1:25 AM

    Great analysis! I think Chandler on the left will be interesting if it happens. It will say a lot about his coaching style if Klinsi sticks with Castillo as well as Orozco in the back. Also, since he wants to have the MLS guys train in Europe during the Christmas break, I wonder if we will see all of them on the field at some point as a kind of try out for said training partners. Lastly, will Klinsi play Jozy a full 90, or does he rest him as a way appease Jozy’s club manager?


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/06 at 6:28 AM

      It will say a lot of negative things about his coaching style if he sticks with Castillo and Orozco. I’ve seen enough of those two for a while.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/09/06 at 6:31 AM

        I don’t think so. Both players clearly aren’t international caliber. However, if you give them 3 or 4 looks here even before qualifying, it’s not overkill.

        Also consider that while they both may (will) falter on defense, both allow Klinsmann at least to see how the US would work with a player with more ability on the ball in those positions.

        I never though Bornstein did a terrible job (overall), but he was only valuable getting up the flank on the cross. Bocanegra..0 going forward.


        • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/06 at 6:35 AM

          I think you slide Chandler over to left back at least if you want to see what it’s like to have a player who can play out of the back. Even if it’s not his natural position I’d be surprised if he was worse than Castillo (who also doesn’t play left back regularly for his club).

          From what I’ve seen with Orozco he is just as likely to lump it forward as the rest of the US central defenders. I think Goodson is better distributing than Orozco.


      • Posted by Fellianis_Fro on 2011/09/06 at 7:19 AM

        Agreed on Castillo. For every good job, there was an equal WTH are you doing?


  2. Posted by Colin on 2011/09/06 at 4:39 AM

    The correct answer is Jean Claude Van Damme


  3. Posted by Landy Cakez on 2011/09/06 at 5:23 AM

    I can’t see Castillo getting another 90 minutes after two very weak performances. He’s clearly no the answer at the back but it’s curious to see how long this extended tryout under Klinsy lasts.


  4. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/09/06 at 5:41 AM

    Jan Vertonghen is injured, no?


  5. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/09/06 at 5:56 AM

    I almost agree with your Starting XI. My only question mark is the on-going issue at left back. You might be right with Chandler, but how much exposure has he had there with his club? Do you think Klinsmann would play a player out of position? Part of me thinks he might, as it’s a friendly and he’s still experimenting, but the other part of me thinks Klinsmann only has a handful of games to sort out his First XI before WCQ starts. Do you think he will not start with Castillo?

    What is Shea’s ability to play on the right? I’d like to see Demsey continue on the left and cut inside, because he’s so dangerous.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/09/06 at 6:22 AM

      That’s got to be the key match-up, right; Hazard vs. LB? And then how to deal with Lukaku’s movement…

      How do you think Klinsmann will organise his back four and midfield? Play a high line and compress the play in midfield,make it harder for them to play inbetween the lines, but leave space behind? Or play deep to try to neutralise the threat behind?


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/09/06 at 6:26 AM

        I think he’s going to try and build possession with his strongest team.

        I don’t think he’ll play or play deep — he’ll play right about at the attacking third with the line which he did against Costa Rica.

        If he changes that strategy, he’ll sit deep I imagine.

        There was virtually no pressure on the ball in the midfield against Costa Rica. Costa Rica was pathetic in not exploiting that–esp in the first half. That will be in the issue today if the forwards (Dempsey, Shea) are pushed forward.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/09/06 at 8:06 AM

        Forgot to mention. Agree, Lukaku with his youth and body will be very difficult–if he’s motivated–vs. Boca and likely Goodson.

        Hazard vs. anyone other than Cherundolo is scary.

        Dolo’s done well against opposing wingers before if the team offers him a pass out. Beckerman or Edu will be critical there….if, again, Hazard is motivated.



        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/09/06 at 9:53 AM

          or if hazard is even healthy enough to play. this game smells of a usa smash and grab rt 66 4 nil.


  6. Posted by Charlie G. on 2011/09/06 at 5:58 AM

    Think BB got a short leash due to his not expressing/communicating a vision of where he was going with the program. Klinsmann has created space for more experimentation (and less focus on results) by being pretty clear in words and actions about what envisions down the road – hence more patience. He also came in at an opportune time, with plenty of time to work with the program prior to the need for results.

    I like your line-up. Why not try Timmy at LB – I like the idea of him working the left with Shea. Agree that Beckerman seems to be more offensive-minded that Edu, but I’m wanting Stu Holden to get back into form soon. I do like the fact of using Beckerman, Castillo, Orosco even if they are not the ‘long term’ answers as it is essential to build depth and for Klinsmann to know what he’s got available.


    • after the hacks on shea i read in some forums, (he had no service and was tired from 90 minutes days before)
      today should be completely different if chandler plays behind him


  7. Posted by Jared on 2011/09/06 at 6:31 AM

    It will be very interesting to see how Belgium comes out today after blowing a game to Azerbaijan. Belgium is full of talent but they never seem to put it all together.

    Castillo will get destroyed by Hazard if he gets the start.

    I’m excited to see how Dempsey and Shea can play together as both are pretty fearless. Shea has to be running low on gas though as he must have played about 500 minutes in the past few weeks. Let’s not ruin the kid with too much playing time at such an early age as Arsenal seems to do with their young players.


  8. Posted by Jared on 2011/09/06 at 6:32 AM

    One other note: ESPN is showing the Nascar race that was delayed over the weekend before the game so it might be another one of those days where you have to go searching for the start of the game.


    • Thanks. I’ll make sure to DVR as much of the ESPN Family of Networks as I can around that time.


    • Posted by Fellianis_Fro on 2011/09/06 at 7:23 AM

      Son of a bitch. Hate the evil four letter network.


      • Right…wouldn’t it behoove them to move it to another one of their networks like ESPNEWs, or ESPNU, or ESPNClassic – all of which are showing something less important (and likely much less cheaper) than a live sporting event from Europe.


  9. Posted by AndyUSA on 2011/09/06 at 6:46 AM

    I think this is a pretty safe assumption as far as the USMNT line up. My only gripe with it is Altidore starting AGAIN. I’m really glad to see that he’s turning things around with his club, but until I see more than a couple of flashes in the Gold Cup, I’m still not sold that he belongs on the MNT. Agadelo may be young, but I think he shows more promise than Altidore does even when he’s at his best.

    As for Klinsmann, I like what I’ve seen so far. He’s shaking things up… something that hasn’t happened on the USMNT in years at this point.

    All of this is my $.02 and probably not worth that much, so I will just leave it at…

    GO USA!!


  10. Posted by Athena on 2011/09/06 at 7:11 AM

    Agree with the lineup selection. I don’t prefer Kljestan, but I can see his value in this game.


  11. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/09/06 at 7:32 AM

    Somehow forgot that Frolaini was with Belgium. We have a friend in from Belgium this week and looking for a Philly spot to watch with some nationals. Anyone hitting the Philly pubs for the afternoon?

    Great preview look at what may be an interesting match. With Donovan’s recent form, I’m interested to see a Demps/Shea combo with Agudelo doing work in front of them.

    Agree that Beckerman may be an interesting fit for this squad. Safe player and may benefit from increased confidence from JK.
    Great Keane story (although he’s still HOF scumbag IMO; ))and I think an excellent example of what this team needs. Someone to lead by example in the everyday training mentality. That’s where I think you miss the McBride’s, Harkes etc from the past.
    Also great point on a left sided Chandler would prob be a far sight better than what Castillo is bringing to the table. And I think Klinsi’s overall vision in these is to continue to instill the attacking FB mentality in the squad.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/06 at 7:36 AM

      Doubt the players miss Harkes. The only training he’d be doing is with their wives.


  12. Posted by SamT on 2011/09/06 at 7:50 AM

    Like the lineup.

    I’d be more emphatic that we won’t see Edu getting the CDM start (way less than 30% odds). Over the past two matches, Beckerman performed much better in that role vs Mexico than Edu did vs Costa Rica — something I would not have expected going into the games. Beckerman worked very hard to show well for the back four under a lot more pressure from Mexico. Edu was not as aggressive checking to the ball to provide the outlet.

    Good example. Remember the lofted first half pass Tim C made to put Boca under pressure against CR? Five seconds before that, we could’ve had an easy short pass Tim C to Edu, but Edu never came across to show for the ball. Tim didn’t have options up the line to Donovan, either. It was Tim C’s error not to pass back to Howard in that situation. But the first error in the sequence was Edu not showing.

    I remain a fan of both players, but I see Kyle getting the start today at CDM.


  13. Posted by msg24365 on 2011/09/06 at 8:11 AM

    I’m not a huge Beckerman fan, but I will admit he may be a good fit for this team. He is alot tougher and a little more of prick that people give him credit for. That is something this group of players could use. The goal he made against the Union on Saturday, a blast while moving away from the goal, was simply awesome. Unsaveable. What I liked the most (or the least, since I’m a Union fan), was that he was in face of a few Union players and, quite frankly, intimidated them IMO.


  14. Posted by CJ on 2011/09/06 at 8:27 AM

    Who would you like to see score their first goal the most?

    Torres, Shea, Chandler, Larentowicz, Ream, or Fiscal

    Me? Torres

    Which player would you like to see score at all?

    Me? Beckerman


  15. Posted by KMac on 2011/09/06 at 8:39 AM

    I am interested in seeing Torres’ play against a better opponent. I watched him in person in Philly against Turkey in May of ’10. He presents some interesting potential. I want to see how he plays against guys like Fellini (read large dudes)to see if he translates to the next level (Europe vs Concacaf).

    I have less interest in seeing Castillo, and to the same degree Orozco-Fiscal (Especially with a 6’3″ Lukaku – Goodson might be my choice with Boca). Chandler at left back intrigues me – would love to see that get a run with Dolo on the right.

    Speaking of that Turkey game in 10, Deuce and Jozy started up front in the BB era 4-4-2. I am interested in seeing if those two play with a better dynamic given Jozy’s improved form/confidence and the space that can be opened with the greater emphasis on wing play.


  16. Posted by Wallace on 2011/09/06 at 8:56 AM

    While I like Chandler at left back it seems highly unlikely. Maybe Specter Castillo, or even boca before Chandler.


  17. Posted by justin on 2011/09/06 at 9:02 AM

    I like that line up. I think it would be cool for maybe 10 minutes or so to try a 3-4-3 with shea dropping back to the LWB and duece cutting in on the left side and moving chandler all the way to right attacking wing. I just feel like with shea’s ability to cross it would be great to see him coming into the attack just a little bit later. I know this is not what you want this type of formation for the whole half, but for 10 mins or so just to put some pressure on the defense, it would be kindof cool to see.


  18. Posted by dth on 2011/09/06 at 10:18 AM

    The one odd issue from Klinsmann last game, against Costa Rica, was how subdued he played his fullbacks. Their forays forward were very conservative, especially given who was starting–if you’re going to start Chandler/Castillo, what’s the point in asking them to stay at home?

    We would’ve gotten much more width and been more threatening if they had been more aggressive.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/09/06 at 10:21 AM

      Actually, I don’t think there was much space for the fullbacks. Costa Rica left the entire central midfield open in the first which is why Rogers and Shea had opportunities overlapping and there was less room on the flanks. Take a look at the countless free passes played into open space for Torres and Chandler.

      The opportunities for the US fullbacks increased in the 2nd half when Costa Rica actually started defending the middle. Both Castillo and Chandler got ahead more frequently.

      Less about the US game plan in my opinion.


  19. Posted by Joamiq on 2011/09/06 at 10:45 AM

    Woo boy. I wish it were true that Beckerman actually offered more going forward than Edu. In a way, I suppose it does, as in he’s more likely to take chances going forward than Edu is. I suppose that’s what Klinsi wants. But Beckerman is also far more likely to screw up his forward forays with errant passes than Edu is. He’s got some power, but not much skill. And intimidator that he may be in MLS, he doesn’t scare anyone internationally. He’s a step (or two) too slow both with and without the ball. As far as the full squad is concerned, he’s a fine, steady option off the bench if the Edu/Bradley/Jones triumverate suffers multiple injuries. If everyone is healthy, with Holden coming back, Donovan and Dempsey playing in the same midfield again, and Shea and Torres both looking like they merit heavy minutes going forward, hopefully we won’t see much of Beckerman in anything more than an injury fill-in CDM role.


  20. Posted by Joamiq on 2011/09/06 at 10:46 AM

    Looks like Chandler is indeed starting at LB. Hoo-ray! Let’s hope he feels comfortable there.


  21. I’ll disagree with prevailing sentiments. I quite like Orozco Fiscal. Agree he’s not the guy to deal with Lukaku, but he’s a different kind of CB when all the others are cut from the same, glacially slow cloth. We need the small, quick, pace, good-on-the-ball option he gives, rather than another of the other, hard-to-separate-one-from-the-other kind. Would definitely not lump him together with Castillo who isn’t up to international level at this point in his career.


  22. Posted by spencer on 2011/09/06 at 12:09 PM

    does anyone know if it is on ESPN right now or if they are showing it on a different channel? I saw a post earlier that it may be NASCAR or something instead.


  23. Posted by scwilliams67 on 2011/09/08 at 4:35 AM

    Why photo shop the actual ball that was used in the game out of the pictures? The Belgium game was played with a select Super Brillant ball which is the Belgian National ball sponsor. They did not and do not use a Nike ball.


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