If the United States has any intention of competing with the best teams in the world, it will need a lot of improvement on defense.
The squad faced Belgium on Wednesday night in Cleveland, Ohio and was embarrassed with a 4-2 loss. There were some positive developments—including the play by Clint Dempsey and the return of Stuart Holden—but easily the worst part of the match was the effort by the back line.
Not only did the team allow four goals, but each of them could have been avoided with some smarter play.
It took six minutes for Belgium to first get onto the scoreboard. After Tim Howard made a tough save, Kevin Mirallas put the rebound into the back of the net with none of the defenders close to making a challenge.
The goal was a result of bad positioning and laziness after giving up on the play.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl blamed Clarence Goodson for the goal:
Belgium goal—Mirallas scores after Lukaku had broken thru US back line. Poor by Clarence Goodson not moving to cover the play.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 30, 2013
However, Leander Schaerlaeckens of FOX Sports believes there was plenty of blame to go around:
That was weak from the American defense on 3counts: Letting Lukaku run through so easily; Howard giving up a rebound; Mirallas left free...— LeanderLastNameNoFit (@LeanderOnFOX) May 30, 2013
Amazingly, this same type of thing happened repeatedly as the match went on. Goodson and Omar Gonzalez struggled to stick with their defenders and often stopped in their tracks while the play was still going on.
This is simply unacceptable for a squad that is outclassed to begin with. Belgium is a very talented team, and America would have had a hard time competing if it played well. The poor effort displayed led to the 4-2 defeat.
In the next match, Team USA will have to do its best to battle against an even better opponent in Germany. Even if its best players do not step onto the pitch, the defense will still be in for a long day.
How will the United States fare against Germany?
The international friendly on Sunday will be the final tune-up before a few World Cup qualifying matches, starting with Jamaica on June 7. In that time, a lot needs to be fixed in order to avoid more disappointment.
Primarily, Jurgen Klinsmann needs to figure out who should be the four players on the pitch. DaMarcus Beasley appeared promising on Wednesday and Geoff Cameron has his moments, but there is still not enough consistency.
Then again, the biggest problem was not a lack of talent. Against Belgium, it was a lack of focus and the intelligence to be in the right position. These are very fixable problems.
If these same players step onto the pitch in the big games over the next few weeks with the same level of play, the United States will get destroyed. That would be enough to kiss the hopes of competing in the World Cup goodbye.
However, this can be a much better team if the defensive line remains active for the full 90 minutes in every match.
There are a number of very good squads in CONCACAF, and it will not be an easy road to the World Cup for the United States. It will be even tougher if the defense continues to hold this squad back.