Thursday, May 30, 2013

Busy Summer of USMNT Action Starts with Loss in Cleveland to Belgium

The U.S. Men's National Team began its busy summer with a loss to Belgium in an international friendly hosted at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, 4-2. More than 27,000 fans were on hand, a solid crowd given the weeknight, school year scheduling of this match. Kudos to the American Outlaws Chapters of Cleveland and Akron for being great supporters, helping fill the lower level of the stadium and singing the National Anthem so loudly that fans could not hear the anthem singer!

On the field, the passion of the U.S. players did not seem quite as inspired in the early minutes. Belgium ran out to the early lead on a goal by Everton's Kevin Mirallas, thanks to a misplaced ball by club teammate and U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard in the sixth minute. The U.S. equalized in the 23rd minute, thanks to a beautifully headed pass by Tottenham's Clint Dempsey to Stoke City's Geoff Cameron, who buried the header to tie things up at 1. That was all the scoring in the first half, leaving the fans in red, white, and blue feeling pretty good about their team.

In the second half, the American substitutes struggled. Surprisingly, the one who was most at fault was probably Aston Villa's Brad Guzan, the U.S. #2 keeper. Guzan, who was outstanding in the World Cup Qualifier draw against Mexico earlier this year, allowed three goals in the second half last night - and probably could have avoided two of them by being more aggressive toward the ball. The result was a 4-1 lead, which was made a bit closer by Dempsey's penalty kick goal in the 80th minute after Seattle Sounder Eddie Johnson's cross resulted in a handball call in the box.

All in all, a disappointing result for the USMNT. While there were stretches of decent play - in particular the second half of the first half - Belgium proved they were the better side for most of the night. That should not have come as any big surprise, as Belgium is ranked 15th in FIFA's world rankings, while the U.S. is ranked 29th.

Wearing my "Glass is Half Full" hat, allow me to point out three positives from last night:

1. DeMarcus Beasley was Man of the Match - another in a series of recent good performances for DMB, this on the night where he earned his 100th cap for the U.S. and likely further solidified his place as the left back starter.

2. The USMNT was missing some important pieces - how much better would the U.S. have looked with Michael Bradley, still recovering from Coppa Italia, in the midfield? Or Fabian Johnson, recovering from his club team's relegation playoff, playing on the left side at a wing? Or Tim Howard, not quite 100% after a physical finish to the EPL season, playing an entire match? I think we could have seen a much better U.S. squad. I would love to see Beasley and Johnson pair up on the left side of the field on Sunday.

3. Stuart Holden returned to action after a two-year recovery - one of the loudest roars from the Cleveland crowd last night came in the 81st minute, as American midfielder Stuart Holden jogged onto the pitch. For Holden, it was a return to play for the national team that was more than two years in the making, after he suffered a gruesome and troubling knee injury that needed multiple surgeries. Holden was solid in his limited time last night, and hopefully he will be able to regain the form that made him one of the best midfielders in the Premier League just three seasons ago.

Up next for the USMNT is a friendly with Germany on Sunday (2:30 pm on ESPN2). After that, World Cup Qualifiers take place on June 7 at Jamaica, June 11 vs Panama (in Seattle) and June 18 vs Honduras (in Utah).

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