Is the U.S. up to its next challenge - the Red Devils?
After Portugal’s 2-1 victory over Ghana, the USMNT sneaks into the knockout round with a 1-1-1 record in the group stage. Belgium, America’s newest foe, is a dark horse to win it all this year. Can the USA earn a decisive trip to the round of 8?
When and Where to Watch
Tuesday, July 1st, 4:00 pm (eastern time) Live on ESPN. This match is being played at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil. You can also find the game online at ESPN.com by supplying your cable provider’s information. If that won’t work, you can find it online here.
Why You Should Watch
Here’s where things get really interesting. The previous three matches were breathtaking battles that proved the USA's worth amongst the big names in the soccer world. Now we start the actual tournament. No more point-differentials and tiebreaker scenarios. From here on out, it’s a single elimination bracket. One minor slip-up and your championship dreams are dashed in the blink of an eye. The remaining 16 teams have just four games to win in order to be crowned world champions.
Even if you’re just a patriotic denizen of the United States who’s interested in the World Cup, you should really be watching all of the World Cup games from here on out. Heavy favorite and host-nation Brazil narrowly escaped Chile during penalties on Sunday, one sample from a gluttony of premium-quality soccer matches. The teams weren't wearing red, white, and blue, but that doesn't mean their 90 minutes were any less entertaining than ours. Though you might not feel any emotional connection to other teams, you had better start educating yourself on the rest of the field in case the U.S. drops out of the tournament Tuesday.
Who to Watch for the United States
There is a wide variety of players to focus on, depending on the final roster that Klinsmann selects. If Jozy Altidore returns, Clint Dempsey will move back into a more supplementary striking role. Current reports signal that Altidore will not be available in his full form, so it’s almost a guarantee that Dempsey will be expected to carry the load once again this match. Jermaine Jones was one of the lone bright spots in a pathetic offensive performance against Germany. Stay alert when Jones touches the ball against Belgium.
On defense, Omar Gonzalez will likely start again after a stellar performance last week; the Belgians will test him early and often. The first step in the Americans' winning gameplan is for Gonzalez and counterpart Matt Besler to hold up. Elsewhere, Alejandro Bedoya will attempt to shake off his concussion scare from last week after a rough collision with Jermaine Jones. The USA will continue to play through Michael Bradley, whose game will hopefully return to normal at some point this tournament. In an elimination game, every player will be doing all he can to walk away with a victory. Jones, Dempsey, and Bradley are the most obvious calls to deliver against Belgium.
Why the U.S. Will Walk Away Victorious
Belgium won Group H by recording victories in each of its three games. Though the European country finished on top of its grouping, it certainly didn’t look unconquerable through 270+ minutes of observation. The team may have been looking past its early, unevenly balanced matches with its eyes on a greater goal – a championship. In its first World Cup appearance since 2002, Belgium entered the tournament as the fifth favorite to win the finals. The Red Devils set a record against South Korea, remaining unbeaten for 13 games for the first time in Belgium's football history – good reason for its players to be oozing confidence as they take the field to face the United States. So confident, in fact, that midfielder Marouane Fellaini has vowed to part ways with his iconic afro if Belgium wins the 2014 World Cup. But before Fellaini reaches for his clippers, Belgium will need to go through this scrappy U.S. squad first.
It’s a mighty challenge, but the Americans gain a slight advantage with an extra day of rest. That’s a huge gift in this situation, with Jozy Altidore recuperating from injury and multiple players needing acclimation time to the hot and humid Brazilian weather. In addition, stadium at Salvador will be the shortest trip that the USMNT has made to play a match during 2014 World Cup play. Still, because of its easy opening draw, Belgium was able to cruise through the group stage, being afforded the luxury of resting some of its featured players in the third game against South Korea.
The match should play out with a narrative that’s similar to the Germany game. Intensity, defense, and physicality are some buzzwords you’ll be hearing a lot on Tuesday. In a recent friendly, Belgium defeated the USA 4-2. But Ghana had America’s number before the tournament started, and now they watch from the sidelines. Health is once again going to be a major factor in this match's outcome. Belgian captain Vincent Kompany is dealing with a groin strain while Thomas Vermaelen’s hamstring problems make him doubtful to participate in the match. The Red Devils clearly have some injury issues, but that shouldn’t be too big of a problem considering the team’s seemingly endless depth. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows for the United States, but with a bit of luck and determination, Belgium’s championship ambitions could be cut short.
Belgium: 2, USA: 1
I’d love to pick the USMNT to take home the W and advance through the tournament, but even Klinsmann acknowledged that this isn’t our year. Belgium will win its fourth consecutive game by a one-goal margin, barely staying afloat in the 2014 World Cup. A small glimmer of hope will be provided by Graham Zusi with an accurate and deft cross over the middle, finished by Dempsey for the 74th minute goal. Sadly, Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini will score before the Americans do.
If not for a horrific draw in the 2014 World Cup, things could have been different for the USA. Now, the Americans look ahead to 2018, a year that should elevate soccer’s place in the hierarchy of American sports.