USA vs. Belgium: 5 Questions Heading into the Match
On Wednesday, May 29, the United States men’s national soccer team will play 15th-ranked Belgium in an international friendly. The game is one of two friendlies that the U.S. will be using as warm-up games for the team’s World Cup qualifiers in June.
Heading into the match and this important stretch of games, there are still a number of important questions head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. squad will have to answer.
Here are five of those questions.
Who Will Play Center-Back for the U.S.?
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When the U.S. roster was first announced, it was widely assumed that Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler would be the center-back combination, with Clarence Goodson serving in a backup role.
Geoff Cameron is also on the roster, but since he played most of his games for Stoke City as an outside back and considering the fact that out-of-form Michael Parkhurst was the only natural right-back on the roster, it was expected that Cameron would be the first choice at right-back.
However, on Monday, it was reported by Brian Sciaretta on Twitter that Cameron was brought in to camp to play center-back. If that is true, it sets up an interesting competition between Cameron and Besler, assuming that Omar Gonzalez is the other starter:
I spoke to Geoff Cameron today. He told me he was brought in to play central defense for the #usmnt & has been training there.— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 27, 2013
While Cameron is a natural center-back and played there for the Houston Dynamo on a regular basis. Cameron was rarely used in the middle of the defense for Stoke City this year.
Besler, on the other hand, has been playing center-back regularly for Sporting KC and did well in his debut in March, helping the U.S. secure a point in its 0-0 draw with Mexico at the Azteca.
Who Will Play Right-Back for the U.S.?
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If Jurgen Klinsmann is looking to use Geoff Cameron as a center-back, the next question becomes who the U.S. will use at right-back.
The obvious answer should be veteran defender Steve Cherundolo. However, Cherundolo is not on the roster due to some rather dubious circumstances. Ostensibly, he was left off the roster due to injury, but Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer made that claim on May 16, sandwiched between 90-minute efforts by Cherundolo for Hannover on May 11 and May 18.
Instead of Cherundolo, Klinsmann called in Michael Parkhurst, whose last competitive match was on Feb. 16. Parkhurst is a talented player who showed well in the Champions League with Nordsjaelland before his ill-fated move to Augsburg, but his lack of playing time at Augsburg makes a mockery of Klinsmann’s claim that form is important when national team selections are made.
Last Tuesday, the Seattle Sounders’ Brad Evans was added to the U.S. roster and could give the team. some depth at right-back. Evans is far from an ideal solution, but with Cherundolo out and Timmy Chandler injured, the U.S. needed another right-back on the roster.
Evans also played well at right-back in second half of the U.S. team's January friendly against Canada.
Could Brad Guzan Beat out Tim Howard for the No. 1 Spot in Net?
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It is almost sacrilege among U.S. men's soccer fans to question Tim Howard’s place in the U.S. net, but Brad Guzan’s outstanding season at Aston Villa and his solid play deputizing for Howard in the March qualifiers have some fans whispering about the possibility of Guzan permanently taking over the job.
Howard had an up-and-down season this year for Everton, but to be fair, Howard has always played at a higher level for the U.S. than he has at the club level. Howard’s experience is also a valuable commodity considering the inexperience of the U.S. back line.
On the other hand, with Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo not on the U.S. roster and seemingly on their way out, little argument can be made about disrupting team chemistry if Guzan were to take the job.
The U.S. back line is in a transition period—not an ideal situation 12 months away from the World Cup—but if the switch is going to happen before Brazil, it might as well happen now.
Will Terrence Boyd or Sacha Kljestan Finally Get Their Chances?
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In Jurgen Klinsmann’s 25 games in charge of the U.S. men's national soccer team, Sacha Kljestan has six appearances as a substitute, totaling 133 minutes.
Terrence Boyd, meanwhile, has appeared seven times, including one start, in 167 minutes of playing time.
However, while they have been used sparingly by the U.S., both players have had outstanding club form, leading many U.S. fans to believe both should be getting more playing time.
Kljestan has 116 starts for Anderlecht over the past three seasons, helping the team to two league titles and two Belgian Super Cups. Boyd scored 17 goals in all of the competitions this season.
With Michael Bradley possibly out of the U.S. lineup due to his 90-minute effort in the Coppa Italia on Sunday, and Maurice Edu withdrawing from camp due to injury, Kljestan may finally be in line for his first start of the Klinsmann era.
Boyd has much stiffer competition, as Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are widely expected to get the starting positions up top, but it would be nice if Klinsmann were to give Boyd a start in one of these two upcoming friendlies to give him a chance to prove what he can do at the international level.
Who Will Play Wide for the U.S.?
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The problem for the U.S. right now is that very few of their players are natural wide players.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has shown a willingness to use Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez out wide, but none of them are natural wingers.
That being said, Johnson has been much more effective when played wide for the U.S. than when he plays up top and Jones was surprisingly effective as a wide midfielder in the Russia friendly last November.
Bob Bradley showed a willingness to use Stuart Holden out wide, but again, it is not his natural position. Joe Corona can be used wide, but typically plays as a central attacking midfielder with Tijuana.
Clint Dempsey has been used as a wide player by Fulham, Tottenham and the U.S men's squad, but as he is the most consistent scorer for the U.S., the team needs him as close to the net as possible. In addition, Landon Donovan was not deemed to be good enough to make the current roster.
The options are quickly thinning among the U.S. natural wide players for the U.S. Brek Shea will miss the Belgium game due to injury and DaMarcus Beasley will be needed at left-back with Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo missing the game due to club commitments, and Corey Ashe withdrawing from the squad due to injury.
Brad Davis and Graham Zusi are the only two healthy, natural wide players currently on the U.S.’ roster.
Other News and Notes
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Fabian Johnson and Hoffenheim beat Kaiserlautern, 2-1 (5-2 on aggregate), in the Bundesliga promotion/relegation playoffs on Monday and will stay up in the Bundesliga next season.
Johnson went the distance while Danny Williams did not make the 18 for Hoffenheim.
While the U.S. will carry an injury-depleted squad into the Belgium match, the Belgians will also be missing some of their top players. According to Soccer America, Eden Hazard has returned to Europe with an injury, Vincent Kompany has a slight knee injury and Christian Benteke has a minor injury and may not play.
The last time that the U.S. beat Belgium was at the 1930 World Cup. The game on Wednesday will be the first game for the U.S. against Belgium since the U.S. lost in Brussels, 1-0, in 2011.