By, Kyle Gibson
Since advancing last Thursday, the US men’s national team has set its sights on the insanely talented, Group H winner Belgium. Led by Eden Hazard, this team’s combined transfer fee is up there with most of the world’s elites.
As I wrote last week, though, Belgium thus far has played like a group of individuals, not a cohesive unit. The team also qualified for knockouts from the easiest group in the tournament.
Here are my three keys to beating the Belgians.
1. Don’t Start Jozy Altidore
Altidore participated in full training for the first time since his injury against Ghana on Monday and is listed as available, but just because he’s fit to go, it doesn’t mean Jurgen Klinsmann should start him.
Let’s go ahead and say the Germany game was an anomaly, because the US only looked to score a few times. Besides that game, the US has scored 2 goals in each game, 2 coming from Clint Dempsey.
In order to preserve the shape that has gotten the team this far, the 4-2-3-1, Klinsmann should opt to keep things the same and keep Dempsey up top. If the US finds itself needing offensive firepower late on, go for a two striker formation and let Altidore impact the game with fresh legs.
We have to remember, by the way, that Altidore wasn’t exactly stacking up the goals before his hamstring injury, anyway.
2. Watch the Late Goals
Belgium has only scored goals in the second half at this Finals, including a 78th minute winner against South Korea and an 88th minute winner against Russia. Unfortunately for the US, it has given away two crucial goals in the final 10 minutes, Ghana’s equalizer and Portugal’s game-tying miracle.
The US can’t allow the Belgians to score late, which is easier said than done. Speedy wingers and strong depth means that the likes of Kevin Mirallas or Divock Origi could be on as substitutes late, terrorizing the US goal. To make matters worse, Eden Hazard and right winger Dries Mertens don’t seem to tire.
I keep flashing back to fellow CONCACAF teams Mexico and Costa Rica, who surrendered stoppage time goals on Sunday. Mexico paid for it with elimination, while Costa Rica barely escaped from penalties.
3. Michael Bradley has to perform
I don’t know what it is with Michael Bradley, but he has had a very rough World Cup. Bradley looked broken against Ghana, surrendered the giveaway that Portugal ultimately equalized on and then played poorly against Germany as well.
Perhaps many critics were right and Bradley wasn’t suited to play as an attacking central midfielder on the world stage. With that being said, Bradley performed great at that spot in the World Cup tuneup games against powerful Turkey and fellow Knockout team Nigeria.
Bradley switched positions slightly with Jermaine Jones in the second half of the Germany game. Perhaps Klinsmann will keep that in mind when he prepares the lineup for Belgium.
Michael Bradley has been the best field player for maybe a year now. He can’t let his team down at the biggest of stages. We need to see more from Michael Bradley in this World Cup Finals if the US wants to find a way to the quarterfinals.
Do you believe? What are your keys? Share in the comments or send me a tweet @kickingit10