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USA vs Belgium Preview

Posted by Julian Cardillo  May 29, 2013 09:25 AM

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(mlssoccer.com)

At the time of the last World Cup, Belgium were ranked 59th in the world and finished a mediocre fourth place in their qualification group. When the US hosts them for a friendly in Cleveland on Wednesday night, much will have changed.

Belgium, who are currently atop their qualification group and ranked 15th in the world, have floated into the 2014 World Cup cycle very much under the radar. Their players are some of the most coveted talents in all of Europe. And their head coach, Marc Wilmots, has brought Belgium's best to face the US.

The core of Belgium's players, which competes across Europe's top leagues, has made the leap from developing to flourishing. Each of Belgium's stars seem to have sprung up and found success at the same exact time, making their national team formidable when all the players come together in unison.

''They have top-class players,'' Klinsmann said. ''And they will have a team that will give us a tough test - and that's what we need.''

Belgium's best instruments are Marouane Fellaini, who orchestrates the midfield and makes darting runs into the attack. He has a bushel of offensive options in front of him, including some of the English Premier League's best young forwards like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Christian Benteke.

The defense is the best it has ever been for the Belgians. Daniel Van Buyten, who won Champions League with Bayern Munich last week, anchors the back line along with Premier League defensive sages Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, and Thomas Vermaelen.

''They're great tests,'' added Clint Dempsey, who is teammates with Vertonghen and midfielder Moussa Dembele at Tottenham. ''Belgium is leading its group in World Cup qualifying and they have a lot of young, up-and coming talent playing on some of the best teams in the world."

While the US' roster doesn't include as many players plying their trade for Europe's top teams, Klinsmann has been able to get the most out of his players against some of the best teams in the world. A young back line that includes Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler and Los Angeles Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez kept Mexico off the scoresheet in the US' last qualifier in Mexico City.

The US' roster also features three players who competed in Champions League this year in Michael Parkhurst, Jermaine Jones, and Sacha Kljestan, who also won the Belgian title this year with Anderlecht.

Other European-based players like Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard have progressed immensely in the last World Cup cycle. Dempsey scored the game winner in the US' first ever victory against Italy last March, while Bradley netted the tying goal versus Russia this past November.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of this friendly is that it's a battle between two up and coming teams. There's an interesting dichotomy: Belgium hasn't reached the World Cup since 2002 but has players who compete for some of the world's best teams while the US has been in every World Cup since 1990 but has players still clawing their way into the upper echelons of world soccer.

It's a testament to the two countries' different routes toward qualification, no doubt, but it's also evidence of two different philosophies for turning into one of the world's best teams.

So while this friendly is supposed to be the US' tune-up for three World Cup qualifiers taking place in June, it will also be a measure of how the Yanks match-up against not just a top team, but one that is curiously in the same boat.

''Facing Belgium at this stage allows us to get a couple answers in terms of where the players are at right now,'' Klinsmann finished, while also not downplaying the importance of their next qualifier against Jamaica on June 7.

''We need to ready for Jamaica,'' Klinsmann said, ''and we will be ready for Jamaica.''

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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