The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) will play Belgium today in their first match of the knockout rounds. We’ve seen this Belgian side before; they beat us 4-2 last year and we beat them 3-0 way back in our first ever World Cup match (Uruguay 1930). Belgium won Group H with a perfect 3-0-0 record ahead of Algeria, Russia, and South Korea, but they’re only ranked two spots above us by FIFA. This is a match we can win, if we improve on our weak offensive performances in the first three matches, where – in an admittedly tough group – the Yanks managed just 39% average possession (second-worse after Iran) and nine shots on target.
What’s At Stake
As everyone knows, the future of soccer in the United States will be made or broken by the USMNT’s performance in today’s match. Or was that the Germany match? Or the next round…?
It’s silly to put so much pressure on our team with that narrative in every match, but it is good for a nation’s relationship with the sport when the national team does consistently well. A win today will put us into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.
Belgium are a fairly young and talented team whose “Golden Generation” players are coming into their primes. Let them do well in four years, when they’ve had more experience. It’s our time now.
Belgium play a 4-2-3-1 system, with Afrobrothaz Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini protecting the back four of Toby Alderweireld, Daniel van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, and Jan Vertonghen – all naturally centerbacks. We saw the problems Germany had playing with all centerbacks yesterday against Algeria. Alderweireld and especially Vertonghen may be caught out by the speed of Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi, and fullback Fabian Johnson. Meanwhile, van Buyten and Kompany tend to get caught stepping too far forward; Michael Bradley’s excellent over-the-top passing will cause them problems.
The USA comes out in 4-1-2-3 in a surprising change from the 4-2-3-1 we played against Portugal and Germany. Geoff Cameron will take Kyle Beckerman’s position just in front of the back four, allowing Jermaine Jones and Bradley to operate in the band of two just ahead of him. Cameron often plays the same “holding role” for Stoke City in England. He’ll probably be marking Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne, unless the young attacker drops deep to escape the pressure as he often did in Belgium’s group stage matches.
Having three central midfielders will free the wingers Zusi and Bedoya to run onto Madly Bradley’s lovely through balls.
Players to Watch
USA: Michael Bradley, who – contrary to popular opinion – has probably been the USMNT’s best player so far. His passing range is excellent, his tackling is strong, and his work rate is among the best in the tournament. He’ll have plenty to aim at with Zusi, Clint Dempsey, and Bedoya making runs into space behind the Belgian back line.
Belgium: Eden Hazard, one of the best dribblers on the planet. According to FourFourTwo StatsZone, only three players completed more one-on-one dribbles in the group stages.
Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman. Twellman is ESPN’s go-to commentator for anything that has to do with the USA (because he played for the USMNT); concussions (because they ended his career); sartorial daring (because he really can pull it off); and gelled-up, frat-coiffed hair (presumably a side-effect of all those concussions).
Ian Darke is ESPN’s main man. Catch him here goofing around with regular partner Steve McManaman or here calling a first date. His incendiary “Go Go USA” call of Landon Donovan’s World Cup 2010 goal ignited his popularity in the States. Standing next to Taylor Gel-man’s hair, though, he’ll have to turn down the temperature or risk creating a fireball.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Tricky: Take a shot whenever Eden Hazard takes on and beats an American defender. How drunk? You’ll have as hard a time staying on your feet as Fabian Johnson.
Funny Man/Straight Man: Take a shot whenever Ian Darke says something ironic and Taylor “Mr. Literal” Twellman clumsily corrects him. How drunk? You’ll be blitzed. (“That’s American football, Ian. I don’t expect any blitzing from the Belgians today.”)
Missing Stars: Have a sip whenever either injured Jozy Altidore or unselected Landon Donovan is mentioned. Bonus shot if one of their images appear onscreen. How drunk? Dead.
USA: Bourbon. ‘Murrica. The real Kentucky stuff. Or just whatever’s leftover from college ten years ago.
Belgium: …I dare somebody to drink something Belgian today.
GO GO USA!
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: USA vs. Germany, USA vs. Portugal, Belgium vs. Russia, Belgium vs. Algeria, Ghana vs. USA
Picture credit: mixedberriesmusic