Belgium v United States

Frailty and fragility: young U.S. defense exposed in 4-2 loss to Belgium


The summation of spring events for a young, rebuilding U.S. back line is the very disquieting “one step forward, one step back.”

All the good work in the snow of Denver and the cauldron of Azteca, two enormously valuable shutouts in  World Cup qualifying, weren’t exactly washed away amid the Belgian foursome, but no one can feel good about a night of sliced and diced regression in Cleveland. One of Europe’s rising powers cut up a young U.S. back line, reminding manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his team that rebuilding a rear guard smack in the middle of a World Cup qualifying cycle is risky business, indeed.

Belgium’s 4-2 win laid bare all the defensive frailties, the communication issues, the limitations of the (hopefully) emerging crop of current center backs, the lack of depth that required Geoff Cameron playing out wide, the slow reactions all the way around, etc.

Ironically, the top defender was DaMarcus Beasley, the converted winger. He was identified as the biggest potential problem by fans and media before Wednesday’s muggy night at FirstEnergy Stadium; but the man earning his 100th cap was the least of the U.S. rear guard in disarray.

Two important caveats here: It’s just a friendly, and we can never assign too much value, good or bad, to results that don’t matter. And certainly this: Belgium is for reals. The midfield looked like men-against-boys stuff as a U.S. team missing its brain, Michael Bradley, mostly couldn’t cope. Plus, we’ll be hearing about this fabulous Belgian crop of attacking midfielders, spry flankers and powerful forwards for years.

That said, the U.S. defensive errors are alarming, to say the least. (And Germany is up on Sunday. Yikes!)

Everyone but Beasley looked bad as the visitors took an early lead, leaving U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard screaming in frustration.

(MORE: Belgium takes apart mistake-prone United States, 4-2)

Cameron, Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson were all painfully slow to react as Romelu Lukaku slipped through, only to be foiled by the onrushing Howard.  That “leak” was bad enough; the communication just wasn’t sharp enough all night between the defenders as they tried to pinpoint the big, physical and surprisingly slippery Lukaku and the outside-to-inside runs of Belgium’s wide men, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin De Bruyne.

When Howard couldn’t hold the ball, he needed help from … well, anyway. Gonzalez and Cameron were nearby spectators. Goodson was even more culpable, having stopped completely to wave about for the offside call. Had he simply followed the play, protecting Howard’s vacated goal, Goodson surely could have been the hero, rescuing the moment.

Was it a mistake to replace Matt Besler, who had replaced the injured Goodson for the result in Mexico? We’ll see on Sunday.

The second goal started with Brad Davis’ turnover and ended on the easiest of finishes for Christian Benteke  – with Gonzalez’s giant booboo forming the meat of this mud sandwich.

Gonzalez’s options as he intercepted a ball near replacement goalie Brad Guzan included shielding Benteke to create an easy Guzan scoop, or crushing the ball well off into the Cleveland night. Instead, he chose to play out on the dribble, and his heavy touched turned into absolute disaster.

source: Getty Images

This is where Gonzalez must grow. He is so physically dominant in league play that he doesn’t always have to “think” his way around the game. In international play, he will live or die by combining the functional brain with the brawn.

The third goal came off a corner kick – but go back to how that set piece was created. The back line was all kinds of out of shape as another turnover happened along the left, with Lukaku quickly finding himself with inside position on Goodson, who was miles away from his central partner Gonzalez. Guzan could only parry the big striker’s shot for a corner – and further disaster ensued on Marouane Fellaini’s far post header.

Klinsmann stresses getting the team in shape with the ball so the Americans are in good spots if possession is fumbled away. Well, it didn’t take on that one.

The midfield was culpable on Belgium’s fourth, as Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan failed to communicate on which player should go pressure Steven Defour. When no one did, there was the fourth on Defour’s wonderful ball out to the left.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 06:  Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace battles with Emre Can of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on March 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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  • Palace 5W-1D-3L in last 9 vs. Reds
  • Reds lead all-time 18W-7D-9L
  • Liverpool two-straight wins at Selhurst Park

Liverpool’s title aims meet a struggling foe in Crystal Palace in a Saturday match at Selhurst Park (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and streaming via NBC Sports Live).

The Reds are level on points with Arsenal and Manchester City but behind on a pair of goals in differential. Jurgen Klopp‘s side had to contend with Spurs at midweek in the EFL Cup, but the Reds used a few youth players to stay fresh for the weekend.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

Palace has a lone point in three matches, and has dropped to 11th place in the table. That’s four points clear of the drop zone, and Alan Pardew‘s teams have fallen victim to long losing streaks in the past. He’ll want to stop the rot straightaway.

And, for whatever reason, Palace has been able to find points against Liverpool. The Eagles have won five of nine against the Reds, and Christian Benteke will be fired up to face the manager who didn’t have much of a need for the big Belgian striker.

What they’re saying

Yohan Cabaye on playing for CPFC boss Alan Pardew:He wants us to be really focused and determined through the week because if not he knows that otherwise come the weekend it will be very difficult to be fit and play at 100 percent. He tries to keep us really focused on the details because now, in modern football, details are really important.”

Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum on young players contributing vs. Spurs“You see a lot of young players when they come into the first team and play a big game, they are nervous and you don’t see their quality immediately. I don’t know if they were nervous but it didn’t seem like it. They just played their game and played how they train.”


Palace has several dangerous components in Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, and Andros Townsend. If they are delivering plays to what will be an extremely motivated Christian Benteke, check out how Liverpool’s back line handles the big man. Look for Palace to be in this one all 90 long, and the Eagles just may nick a point at home. 2-2.

Barcelona asks court to act against Spanish league president

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  FC Barcelona celebrates after Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scored his team's third goal from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona is asking a sports tribunal to consider sanctioning the Spanish federation and the president of the Spanish league after they condemned a goal celebration and accused players of provoking rival fans.

The club said Thursday it has formally requested the Administrative Court of Sport open disciplinary proceedings against Javier Tebas and members of the federation’s competition committee after their “unacceptable public declarations and assessments” about Barcelona players.

[ MORE: Spanish FF chastises Barcelona ]

The competition committee fined Valencia 1,500 euros ($1,600) on Wednesday after water bottles were thrown at Barcelona players celebrating a late winner in a Spanish league match on Saturday in Valencia.

It also condemned the attitude of the players by saying they shouldn’t have turned to the stands to celebrate and that they exaggerated after some of them were hit by one of the bottles. It said their actions exposed them to ridicule.

Barcelona said the committee “is not there to make assessments but rather to take disciplinary action, or not, in order to make an example of incidents that occur” on the pitch.

“Making statements regarding the actions of the players adds even more tension to a situation that must be deescalated,” Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

Bartomeu also had harsh words for Tebas, who told Spanish media that he didn’t like the attitude of some Barcelona players, hinting that they provoked the fans during their celebration.

“The declarations made by Tebas are irresponsible and unbecoming of a sports executive,” Bartomeu said.

Barcelona’s next game is Saturday against last-place Granada at the Camp Nou.

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Burnley

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11:  Chris Smalling of Manchester United scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on February 11, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Burnley hasn’t won at OT since 1962
  • Man Utd leads all-time 58W-20D-44L
  • Clarets sit 14th, United 7th

Manchester United seeks its first Premier League win in four tries when it hosts pesky Burnley at Old Trafford on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live).

Burnley has picked up their fair share of draws at Old Trafford in their long history, but wins have not been found at Manchester United in more than half a century.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Clarets are coming off a win over Everton, and Sean Dyche‘s crew waited until the 90th minute to score the winner through Canadian international Scott Arfield.

United will be buoyed after beating rivals Manchester City in a midweek EFL Cup clash that moved the Red Devils into the final eight of the tournament.

What they’re saying

United’s Ander Herrera on playing at Old Trafford: “I feel it like them. I know I am not English and I am not from Manchester, but I really love this club and I have enjoyed my time here. I don’t want to be just one more player. I want to show that I am very happy here and I want to be here for as long as possible.”

Burnley keeper Tom Heaton on returning to OT“It’s a special game back. I still hold a lot of affection for the football club. I spent 13 years there and almost grew up there. I’m still pleased I made that decision to earn those stripes and get back to the Premier League and be involved in the international set-up. It’s always a nice feeling going back there but, as ever, there will be a job to do and that will be the focus.”


Burnley will be rested and ready to grind out a result, but United knows it needs to start stacking wins to stay in the mix for a European place. The Red Devils will open Burnley up early en route to a scrappy 3-1 win.

MLS conference semifinals schedule set for Sunday

Toronto FC's Justin Morrow (left) celebrates his goal with teammates Sebatian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio (right) and Jozy Altidore (back) against the Chicago Fire during second half MLS soccer action in Toronto, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Major League Soccer’s “play-in” round of the playoffs is over, with the chalk going 3-for-4.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Impact’s 4-2 win over DC United was the only upset of the first round, with Seattle, Los Angeles, and Toronto all handling their business at home.

Now we know who plays Sunday, and what order they’ll take the pitches of MLS.

all times ET

Montreal vs. New York Red Bulls — 3 p.m.
LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids — 5 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. New York City FC — 7 p.m.
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas — 9:30 p.m.

November 6

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal — TBD
Colorado Rapids vs. LA Galaxy — TBD
New York City FC vs. Toronto FC — TBD
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders — TBD