[BELGIUM-USA] The atmosphere of optimism ushered in by Jurgen Klinsmann when he took charge of the USA a month ago dampened a bit when his team lost, 1-0, at home to Costa Rica on Friday. On Tuesday, Klinsmann aims to celebrate his first U.S. win -- in Brussels against Belgium, which last lost to the USA in 1930. Here's what to watch for in the game that airs at 2:30 pm ET on ESPN ...
* MORE MEN UP FRONT? On Friday at the Home Depot Center, in Klinsmann’s second game , the Americans impressively kept possession for long periods, but didn’t convert that dominance into scoring chances. The problem? The one-forward formation that kept Jozy Altidore significantly outnumbered when he received the ball.
Flank men Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers were supposed provide the support.
“This will also take time,” Klinsmann said after the game. “They definitely need to develop an instinct with Jozy, or Juan Agudelo – the No. 9 -- in order to cover those spaces better.”
Better yet, Klinsmann could line up two true forwards.
* THE A-TEAM. In Klinsmann’s first two games, he’s played Edson Buddle, then Altidore up front for an hour and then replaced them with Agudelo, who was especially lively in the 1-1 comeback tie with Mexico. Klinsmann could create a true forward line by starting both Altidore and Agudelo against the Belgians.
It’s more likely that Klinsmann will stick the same formation and hope that his midfielders move to the central frontline more frequently.
* DEMPSEY’S ‘DEBUT.’ How will Klinsmann use Clint Demspey?
Landon Donovan, who played in the central midfield alongside Jose Torres against Costa Rica, has not accompanied team to Belgium. (Donovan played 30 minutes for his Galaxy in Monday’s 2-2 tie with Kansas City.) But making his first appearance with the squad since the Klinsmann hiring is the USA’s second best attacking player: Dempsey.
Like Donovan – and sadly unique within the U.S. national team pool – Dempsey is a goal-hungry attacker with the unpredictable moves that unbalance foes and win games.
If Dempsey takes on the role that Donovan had against Costa Rica, it’s to attack from the central midfield.
Or Dempsey plays up front with Altidore or Agudelo.
Or Dempsey takes a wide midfield spot, and Klinsmann leaves either Rogers or Shea on the bench.
* THE EDU FACTOR. Klinsmann had high praise for defensive midfielder Maurice Edu after the Costa Rica game. The coach said he instructed Edu to focus solely on defense to cover for Donovan and Torres.
Michael Bradley, who played the “No. 6” position throughout his father’s tenure, was remarkably effective darting up front at the right time and scoring numerous key goals for the USA. Michael Bradley isn’t with the squad on this trip, but Edu has also shown, with club and country, the ability to cover his defensive responsibilities while contributing to the attack.
So why put the shackles on a midfielder?
* TORRES' PROGRESS. Torres was the key reason that the USA kept possession so well against the Costa Ricans and his accurate cross-field passes were particularly impressive. Missing from the Mexican-based midfielder's game were penetrating runs into the heart of the defense. Bottom line: he need not be so shy about taking on players one-on-one.
* THE BACKLINE BALANCE. In all likelihood, Michael Orozco Fiscal and captain Carlos Bocanegra will be back for their third straight game as central defense partners.
Edgar Castillo has played the full 90 in both of Klinsmann’s games at left back and although he looked vulnerable at times, he also showed enough spark in creating attacks that Klinsmann, who has been clear about being patient with players making mistakes, may give him another start.
Veteran right back Steve Cherundolo joins the squad in Brussels, which could leave Timothy Chandler on the bench, unless Chandler replaces Castillo on the left.
“I can play on the left,” said Chandler after the Costa Rica game.
Another scenario would have Chandler playing wide right in the midfield in place of Rogers, and in front of right back Cherundolo.
* THE OPPONENT. The USA’s game on Tuesday marks its fourth against Belgium, the last encounter coming in 1998 as a preparation friendly for the World Cup in France. The Belgians prevailed, 2-0, in Brussels.
Belgium beat the USA, 1-0, in 1995. The other matchup came in the opener of the 1930 World Cup, when the USA won, 3-0.
On Friday, Belgium tied, 1-1, at Azerbaijan in a qualifier for the 2012 European Championship. The result left the Belgians' in third place behind Turkey and Germany, which clinched qualification with a 6-2 win over Austria.
Azerbaijan is coached by Berti Vogts, who was Klinsmann’s coach on German team that won the 1996 European Championship.
“My old coach Berti Vogts already gave me all the insights [on Belgium] that he has,” said Klinsmann. “It is one of the rising teams of Europe with a lot of young talent coming through. For us, this is one of those games we need for the learning process that we’re in.”
(vs. Belgium, Tuesday, 2:30 pm, ESPN, ESPN3.com)
Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Tim Howard (Everton/ENG)
Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers/SCO)
Edgar Castillo (Club America/MEX)
Timmy Chandler (FC Nuremberg/GER)
Steve Cherundolo (Hannover/GER)
Clarence Goodson (Brondby/DEN)
Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis/MEX)
Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls)
Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City/ENG)
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
Clint Dempsey (Fulham/ENG)
Maurice Edu (Rangers/SCO)
Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/BEL)
Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids)
Jose Torres (Pachuca/MEX)
Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls)
Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/NED)
Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
Brek Shea (FC Dallas)