The Belgians have never lacked for individual talent and the present side have a number of names that are already established international stars like Vincent Kompany, Maroaune Fellaini, and Thomas Vermaelen.
Others like Eden Hazard, the winger strongly linked to Arsenal, Alex Witsel, Moussa Dembele, Steven Defour, and Dries Mertens are stars in the making. Romelu Lukaku, the 19 year old striker compared most to Didier Drogba has already made the move to Chelsea. They are looking to recreate the golden period of the 80s when they had luminaries like Michel Preudhomme, Enzo Scifo, Jan Ceulemans, Franky Van der Elst, Eric Gerets, and Marc Wilmots. They are in the midst of a tough Euro 2012 qualifying campaign where their chances hang by a thread with the Turks ahead and a tough match coming up against already qualified Germany.
US coach Juergen Klinsmann does not have to contend with such practicalities. He is trying to change an entrenched philosophy which he has to introduce piecemeal and by making several personnel changes. The short passing game that the USA failed to develop in the Bob Bradley era for a counterattacking thrust is getting a very good look. Assistant coaches Martin Vasquez and Thomas Dooley brought to the MNT by Klinsmann have vast experience with the possession game favoured by the Bundesliga and the Mannschaft.
Against Belgium, Klinsmann shifted Chandler down to the left while Steve Cherundolo occupied his usual right back position. The switch made for increased pace down the the left flank and Chandler playing out of position did very well containing the threat of the ever dangerous Mertens. He was a bit more hesitant coming up and his touch was not the best. The drop off was picked up by Brek Shea providing some clever interlinking play with Clint Dempsey and Juan Agudelo. The DC United winger was quite the livewire stretching the Belgian defense and making a nuisance of himself with his ability to cut in.
One of those forays led to Clint Dempsey leaving Simone Mignolet exposed with some excellent footwork but the Fulham man made a poor choice by passing up the chance to relay the ball to Agudelo in a better position to score. His weak effort was easily saved by Mignolet.
Other than that one occasion the US were quite undistinguished in the box running out of ideas. The Belgians at the other end were able to capitalize on a set piece error after a throw found Fellaini who headed the ball into the path of Nicholas Lombaerts. The defender let loose a half volley before the US could close down and it found its way past Tim Howard who till then had a superb game. The US goalie made two fabulous saves palming a sizzler by Timmy Simons and then a volley by Everton team mate Fellaini.
The USA came on strong in the final 10 minutes and they thought they had scored the equalizer when Maurice Edu powered in a header from a free kick but the goal was disallowed for what appeared to be a dubious offside. Once again Edu was denied by a refereeing decision. How many times does that happen in internationals? The final minute of play was bizarre as the US building up on a last throw of the dice fizzled out in no man’s land.
Klinsmann kept his faith in Jose Francisco Torres which is the right thing to do. The midfielder may not be the quickest in the world but clearly he has an eye for a pass. The one thing Torres must do better is to engage more fully in the final 3rd recycling the attack with more alacrity. With three holding midfielders and a deep seated playmaker, the connection between midfield and the attack was not easy to come by and it was only Shea’s endeavour that kept it from getting completely lost.
On that track, the US coach should also give Mikkel Diskerud, a much quicker and more attacking player with a creative edge, a shout at the MNT. Stuart Holden’s match fitness will be on display as Klinsmann leaves in the next few days to see the Bolton midfielder take on a reserve game. It will be a welcome relief to get back him back because Robbie Rogers maybe quick but that is about all one can say in his defense.