At almost any point of the last 20 years, a national team friendly against Belgium would rate an “Oh, that’s nice,” from most U.S. Soccer supporters. A little bit like average pizza for lunch; it’s pizza and all, and that’s not terrible, but you know there are better slices out there.
Since some better days in the 80s, Belgium has dwelled in the middle class of European soccer, leaning toward the bottom end of the continent’s mid-level over the last decade or so.
But today’s Belgium is absolutely brimming with bright potential. Which is why a May 29 U.S. friendly at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, just announced today by U.S. Soccer, is something U.S. supporters can truly toast.
From U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann: “Belgium is definitely a team on the rise. If you look at their roster, they have quality players from top to bottom who are on some of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a big opportunity for us and a great way to start the summer as we prepare for the World Cup qualifiers.”
Belgium is currently tied with Croatia atop Group A in World Cup qualifying out of Europe. No wonder, really, when a young standout like Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has trouble making the starting lineup in those qualifiers. He was on the bench to start Belgian’s contest last fall at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, where Marc Wilmots’ team was dominant in a 2-0 win.
With a defense orchestrated by Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany (pictured in Belgian uniform), a midfield run buy Everton’s Marouane Fellaini and Tottenham’s Moussa Dembele, plus stars in the making like Hazard and Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke to score the goals, this truly is one of Europe’s wow-wow sides of the moment.
And about the team spirit and accord that can sometimes be difficult in a land with competing cultures and languages? Team captain Kompany says that part is right as can be these days.
Carlos Lizarazo’s ridiculous rocket shook rain off the net in an aesthetically pleasing CONCACAF Champions League goal on Thursday.
The Cruz Azul loanee struck a vicious shot for FC Dallas’ fifth goal, which boosted out of the No. 8 seed for the quarterfinals after a 5-2 win at Suchitepéquez in Guatemala.
[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]
Lizarazo, 25, had two goals in 10 appearances for FCD heading into the game, with both coming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Major League Soccer will have three teams in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League thanks to FC Dallas’ thrilling comeback win on Thursday.
FCD beat Guatemalan side Suchitepéquez 5-2 at the Estadio Mateo Flores after going down by a pair of first half goals.
[ WATCH: Pogba’s classy UEL goal ]
Carlos Gruezo and Matt Hedges helped Dallas to level terms by halftime, and Atiba Harris scored just after the break to put FCD ahead. An own goal and a must-watch Carlos Lizarazo 90th minute wonderstrike gave us the final scoreline. Gruezo also added an assist.
A tie would’ve been enough to send Dallas through atop Group H, but the big win moves it ahead of New York Red Bulls. FCD will finish seventh at worst.
FCD joins Vancouver and New York Red Bulls as the MLS representatives in the tournament, and the league will have at-worst the joint-most clubs in the quarters.
[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]
Mexican sides UANL Tigres and Pachuca are quarterfinalists, while Panamanian side Arabe Unido and Costa Rican stalwarts Saprissa advanced as well.
The field’s eighth team will be set after the 10 p.m. ET matchup between Honduras Progreso and Mexico’s UNAM.
The Whitecaps are the No. 1 seed, and could well match-up with the Red Bulls if there is a winner between UNAM and Honduras Progreso. If Honduras Progreso advances via draw, the Hondurans will be the No. 8 seed.
NEW YORK (AP) A Florida businessman pleaded guilty in New York to conspiracy charges Thursday in a scheme to pay bribes to high-ranking soccer officials in exchange for media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments and matches.
Aaron Davidson, 45, entered the plea in Brooklyn federal court. Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen was set for April 24, when Davidson could face decades in prison. As part of his plea, he agreed to forfeit more than a half-million dollars.
[ WATCH: Pogba’s classy goal ]
Davidson was arrested last year in the FIFA probe after prosecutors said soccer officials accepted $150 million in bribes over a 24-year period in exchange for rigging bids for lucrative marketing rights. Davidson ran a Miami-based marketing firm. He was arrested along with more than a dozen other people in a case prosecuted in the United States on the grounds that illegal payments used U.S. banks and those involved conducted meetings in the United States.
Prosecutors said Davidson negotiated and agreed to make bribe payments totaling more than $14 million, executing multiple criminal schemes including the agreement to pay bribes to a high-ranking official of FIFA, CONCACAF, the Caribbean Football Union and one of FIFA’s national member associations.
[ MORE: Why Pogba took PK over Rooney ]
The government said the bribes were paid to secure lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments and matches for his company, Traffic USA, and its business partners.
Prosecutors said those sports events included FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League, among others.
The government said its investigation continues.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is open to the idea of the UEFA Champions League final being played outside Europe.
Specifically, Ceferin thinks about New York.
[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]
Ceferin said Thursday that staging the first ever UCL final away from Europe would be discussed at some point.
“To go from Portugal to Azerbaijan for example is almost the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans it’s no problem but we should see. It’s a European competition so let’s think about it.”
Given the preseason matches played in the United States, China, and Australia, it makes sense to stage an important UEFA match outside Europe. Those first two countries especially aim to become power players in the game, and certainly it would benefit UEFA to showcase its absolute finest (if only as a reminder).
We don’t get to see entire first teams playing the game in earnest when friendlies hit U.S. soil, and the successful Copa America showed UEFA that CONMEBOL and CONCACAF trust the States with critical matches.
Selfishly, of course we want this. And selfishly, of course Europe wants to keep it. Their fans wouldn’t necessarily want to take an incredibly expensive trip to see a UCL final.