United States national team has hands full tonight versus heavily talented Belgium

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Don’t be fooled by Belgium’s larger lack of marquee status in world soccer. The team is seriously on the rise and, in a word, stacked.

The roster reads like a who’s who of European up-and-comers. When attached to a couple of older hands, like commanding Manchester City center back Vincent Kompany, you see why Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team has its mitts full tonight in Cleveland.

A crowd of about 25,000 will watch as a U.S. team slightly diminished by absences due to injury and ongoing club commitments kicks off at 8 p.m. ET at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

It’s just a friendly for the Americans, a way to polish and fine-tine for the far more important World Cup qualifiers ahead. So it’s low-pressure stuff in that regard. Still, no one wants to finish on the wrong end of a beating – and all the questioning that comes with it – and the Belgians have a sequined assembly certainly capable of delivering one.

(MORE: U.S. lineup prediction for tonight)

Chelsea attacker Eden Hazard has returned to Europe due to injury, but the Belgians do have Spurs midfielder Moussa Dembélé, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (pictured, left) and Zenit St. Petersburg tough performer Axel Witsel in midfield, a formidable match for a U.S. team missing its most important man in the middle, Michael Bradley.

Striker Romelu Lukaku is sure to test a young U.S. back line; he’s soaring with confidence after recording a a hat-trick for West Brom on the final day of the English Premier League season in that wild 5-5 draw with Manchester United. Lukaku, 20, spent the season on loan from Chelsea, and may soon join Champions League runner-up Dortmund on loan for the coming campaign.

If Lukaku isn’t tormenting the U.S. rear guard, then it could be Christian Benteke, who meant so much to Aston Villa’s spring dash to stave off relegation. Benteke may also soon be on the move.

Joining Kompany in the back for Belgium is versatile Spurs man Jan Vertonghen and Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen.

Manager Marc Wilmots, who captained Belgium’s last World Cup team, back in 2002, even has great options in goal. There he has Thibaut Courtois, a Chelsea man who just spent a successful season on loan at Spain’s Atletico Madrid, or first-choice Sunderland ‘keeper Simon Mignolet from which to choose.

Roll them all together – we didn’t even mention Everton’s Kevin Mirallas or Porto’s Steven Defour or, well, we could go on … —  and it really is an impressive bunch. This piece at ESPN FC notes how all the pieces piled up turned Belgium into a virtual version of world soccer’s third most expensive team. That’s based on transfer fees that reached $226 million last summer.

Speaking of transfer fees, expect to hear a lot this summer about Fellaini; the Everton man and his explosion of dark hair are expected to be among July’s top transfer targets.

Can this team be as good as the highly capable Belgian teams of the 80s, when the land finished third in a World Cup (1986)? “We are quite technically strong, but also there is a lot of strength and power in the team,” Fellaini said in this piece, which attempts to dissect the recent rush of talent emerging from a relatively small land of 11 million.

That’s about the size of Ohio, population-wise. So, that’s not bad at all for the country now ranked 15th by FIFA – if you put any weight in those things. (If you do, the United States is ranked 33rd.)

(MORE: Three things to watch for US tonight vs. Belgium)

(MORE: Klinsmann reveals lineup tidbits)

(MORE: U.S. back line will be young)

(MORE: Beasley hits mileposts No. 100, plus other U.S. notes)

(More on the United States and how Jurgen Klinsmann’s team might look later today at ProSoccerTalk)

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.

Report: USMNT’s Arriola drawing transfer interest abroad, in MLS

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Paul Arriola’s motor was constantly running as the United States men’s national team claimed its sixth Gold Cup title, and it could drive him all the way from Club Tijuana to Europe or a prime spot on an MLS roster.

There’s a snag, though.

[ MORE: Everton wins Europa opener ]

Arriola is reportedly wanted by Real Salt Lake and clubs in both the Netherlands and Portugal, but the LA Galaxy has what Goal.com describes a “dubious homegrown player” claim on Arriola, who participated in a minimal of practices with the Galaxy when he was younger.

As you’ll see below, there isn’t much “homegrown” about it and, to its critics, it is peak MLS monopolized tomfoolery. Here’s how Goal describes it:

“He was already a U.S. youth national team player when he traveled the 120 miles from Chula Vista to take part in a handful of training sessions with the LA Galaxy academy and eventually the Galaxy first team.

“The Galaxy are believed to hold a homegrown player claim on Arriola, and would have the right of first refusal on making Arriola an offer if he comes to MLS. The Galaxy’s current salary-cap situation might not allow them to make a serious bid for Arriola.”

But… here’s how the Galaxy described his choosing to sign for TJ instead of a pro deal from LA in 2013:

“It’s a little disappointing,” Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday. “He went through our system, we offered him a contract and he decided to move on and go somewhere else. But that’s going to happen. It’s something that has happened before, and it’s something that will happen again.”

Arriola’s response in the same article? “I thank the Galaxy for giving me a wonderful opportunity to train with their first team and be a part of their first team which really taught me a lot.” That doesn’t read as much like he “went through their system.” He played in at least one U-18 game, debuting in October 2012, did more training with TJ in December 2012, and signed for the Mexican side in May 2013.

Should that qualify him as Homegrown?

https://www.transfermarkt.com/paul-arriola/leistungsdaten/spieler/189876

Did Arriola spent significant time with LA, or is it possible the Galaxy might reap rewards from having an already established youth national teamer to practice when he was a kid? Whether you’re okay with that or not, consider that it encourages clubs to pilfer rights without actually registering or training the player.

Not to mention there is no guarantee that playing in the Netherlands or Portugal will be better for his development than MLS. Benfica or Ajax and potential action in European tournaments? Maybe. NAC Breda or Tondela? Maybe not.

Nevermind the quagmire that is American youth soccer clubs’ not earning money from transfer fees, the Arriola drama seems baseless. We don’t know the Galaxy will hold the player hostage, but they would actually be depriving MLS of a talent, as LA would theoretically get nothing should TJ sell him to a European club.

In any event, check out Arriola’s use chart from Tijuana and you’ll see why he’s valued by Bruce Arena as well as his suitors. He’s a Swiss Army Knife. Here’s hoping Tinseltown doesn’t stop him from a proper next step (assuming he’s ready to leave Liga MX).