The United States and Belgium face off in a high-profile friendly ahead of key World Cup qualifying matches next month. Both sides are in the process of reincorporating players as their European club seasons come to an end.
June will be a busy month for the American squad. It starts with a friendly against Germany, and three qualifiers follow, including two at home. Building some chemistry and momentum ahead of those important clashes is the biggest key Wednesday night.
Belgium faces Serbia in a crucial qualifier of its own. The Rode Duivels are currently caught up in a fierce battle with Croatia for a direct berth into next year's World Cup. There's no margin for error if they want to avoid the playoff round.
So while the match will carry the "friendly" label, both sides are going to take it seriously as they look to find top form. With that in mind, here's a look at all the viewing information for the match, followed by some players to watch and a prediction.
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio
When: Wednesday, May 29 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
United States Player to Watch: Clint Dempsey
Longtime American star Landon Donovan remains off the squad, which leaves Dempsey as the veteran leader of the attack. He endured an up-and-down campaign with Tottenham, but did score four goals over his last seven appearances.
The 30-year-old Texas native will likely assume an attacking role behind forward Jozy Altidore. Creating a connection with the striker, who's had plenty of success with AZ Alkmaar at the club level, is crucial during the friendly portion of the five-match stretch.
Dempsey is at this best when he's engaged early. Look for his teammates to get him a lot of touches right away to establish him as the focal point of the attack. Belgium has a talented and experienced defense, which will serve as a good measuring stick for the Americans.
Belgium Player to Watch: Thomas Vermaelen
Vermaelen was one of the most reliable center backs in the Premier League since joining Arsenal. He wasn't able to establish that elite form for any extended period of time during the recently completed season, though.
It makes his work with the national team more important. He must prove the down season was nothing more than a brief setback. If he keeps stringing mundane performances together, the transfer rumors are only going to grow louder.
Based on his track record, there's no reason to believe Vermaelen can't bounce back. At 27, he should just be entering his peak seasons. Representing Belgium should allow him to get the playing time he needs to get back on track.
Matchup to Watch: American back line vs. Belgian attack
Even though the United States defense stood tall during the last set of qualifiers (one goal against in two matches), the back line is still a work in progress. The most important factor is finding a pair of center backs to stabilize the group in front of Tim Howard.
Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron should draw the assignment against Belgium. The Rode Duivels should provide a good challenge because they feature the speed of Romelu Lukaku, the size of Marouane Fellaini and everything in between.
Not only must the American defenders shut down the Belgian offense, they have to jump-start the counterattack. Having a couple friendly matches to test out different combinations at the back should prove valuable to manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
Ultimately, the United States defense should do enough to earn at least a draw.
United States 1, Belgium 1
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