Cleveland (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland has always been known as a football town, tonight that saying takes on a new meaning as over 25,000 Clevelanders will arrive at First Energy Stadium in anticipation of the U.S. Men’s National team taking on Belgium in an international friendly. Tonight’s match is the first of two international friendlies for Team USA as they prepare for their 2014 World Cup Qualifiers in late June. Team USA comes into this match riding a wave of momentum following their advancement in to the qualifying round back in March. Jurgen Klinsmann, the manager of Team USA, has brought a mix of new and seasoned talent to the pitch in an effort to find the right group for a push to Rio. In recent years, soccer has seen a positive growth in popularity due much in part to the performance of Team USA dating back to the 2010 World Cup.
Klinsmann, who has been known to play around with lineups, has put together a team that should intrigue most die-hard fans and delight new fans. The position to watch over the next couple of friendlies is that of goal keep. Tim Howard was the goalie for the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup and has since started for Team USA. He was sidelined for the last two U.S. qualifying matches due to an injury sustained during the English Premier League season. Brad Guzan, stepped up in his place and kept a clean sheet leading the U.S. into the Confederation of North Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). A key factor for the U.S. going forward will be goal scoring. Team USA having scored only two goals this year, will be looking to Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez to step up and help Clint Dempsey; who scored both of the U.S. goals. Dempsey, along with Howard, Guzan, and defender Joeff Cameron have top professional experience, which will come in handy against the loaded Belgian side.
Belgium has a completely different mindset coming into this game. Having already qualified for the 2014 World Cup, Belgium is looking to vault to the top tier of international soccer, coming to Cleveland with a roster that is littered with players from Championship League level teams. Belgium, who failed to qualify for the 2012 Euro’s, is currently ranked by FIFA as the 15th best national team in the world. They have a chance to climb into the top 10 with a strong summer which begins tonight against the Team USA. Players to watch out for on the Belgian side are forward Eden Hazard, defender Vincent Kompany, and mid-fielder Marouane Fellaini.
Tonight’s game will be an excellent chance for Team USA to see if they can compete against Europe’s top teams. As the sport grows Americans will want to see this team can succeed and enter onto the world stage. The U.S. needs to take advantage of every opportunity; specifically, in set pieces if they want any chance of drawing, let alone defeating this talented Belgian team. The most important thing the U.S. needs to get out of tonight is to find a rotation that will work for them throughout the summer qualifying season. This U.S. team has the legs to keep up with the Belgians; they just lack the skill and experience they need to defeat them. Prediction: Belgium defeats Team USA 4-2.