Belgium's national soccer team players Marouane Fellaini and Eden Hazard take part a training session at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels

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)

NWSL Playoffs set: Portland, Washington, Chicago, Western New York

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The National Women’s Soccer League will crown its fourth champion in mid-October, and for the first time in three years the winner will not be FC Kansas City.

FCKC finished sixth after the 20-game regular season concluded this weekend, six points out of the final slot occupied by the Western New York Flash.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

The Flash join Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit in attempting to topple NWSL Shield winners Portland, a Thorns side which won the title in 2013 and has only missed the playoffs once.

Washington hosts Chicago on Friday in the first semifinal, while the Flash travel to Oregon for an Oct. 2 semi.

Portland Thorns (1) vs. Western New York Flash (4)

The two best goal differentials in the league meet at Providence Park, where Mark Parsons’ Thorns and their league-best defense will be tasked with stopping the highest-scoring offense in the NWSL. That means stopping Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams and runner-up Jessica McDonald, who’ve accounted for 21 of WNY’s 40 goals.

The Thorns are loaded. Women’s soccer legend Christine Sinclair, who once lifted a trophy for the Flash, is there with a quintet of USWNT mainstays. French star Amandine Henry, too, as well as leading goal scorer and Danish star Nadia Nadim.

USWNT regulars on each side
Portland: Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Emily Sonnet, Lindsey Horan

WNY: Samantha Mewis

Washington Spirit (2) vs. Chicago Red Stars (3)

The two sides split the season series, with Chicago hosting a 3-1 victory on Saturday. Sofia Huerta had a goal and an assist, as she and Christen Press combined for nine shots. They’ve combined for 15 goals on the season, though the Red Stars have only found nine goals elsewhere.

No Washington player has scored more than five goals this year, and the Spirit haven’t had a multi-goal game in September, but Argentina national teamer Estefanía Banini’s five goals in 13 matches in an impressive haul.

USWNT regulars on each side
Washington: Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn

Chicago: Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, Christen Press

UEFA Champions League preview: Spurs, Foxes, and BVB hosts Real

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid takes on Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Leicester City gets a home Champions League match, Spurs head to Russia, and two of the world’s best attacks meet in Germany; Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League slate is pretty tasty.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

An out-of-form Cristiano Ronaldo has Real Madrid in a mini-slump, and a trip to Borussia Dortmund isn’t exactly the antidote now, is it? Normally we wouldn’t dial that up, but Ronaldo has a knack for shining brightly when folks question him. We’ve seen this one before. Expect a highlight-reel night from CR7, but perhaps the same from high-flying BVB.

Spurs are buoyed by the news that Harry Kane‘s injury may not be as serious as first thought, but could be sunk back into the depths with a loss at CSKA Moscow on Tuesday. Spurs fell to Monaco, while CSKA scooped up a solid draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Leicester City is looking to stay perfect after an impressive UCL debut at Club Brugge, and faces a big test in Portugal. Porto does quite well in this tournament almost annually, and won’t be scared by a trip to King Power Stadium. El Tri trio Miguel Layun, Jesus Corona, and captain Hector Herrera join familiar names Iker Casillas, Yacine Brahimi, and Maxi Pereira on the Porto roster.

Tuesday’s UCL matches

all matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Sporting Lisbon vs. Legia Warsaw
Sevilla vs. Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Juventus
CSKA Moscow vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
Monaco vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen vs. Club Brugge
Leicester City vs. Porto

Kei Kamara “shocked” at boos in return to Columbus

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Soccer player Kei Kamara attends the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Kei Kamara couldn’t gather his emotions after his return to Columbus as a member of the New England Revolution.

The star striker netted 27 times in 41 appearances for the Crew before a locker room falling-out found him traded to New England.

[ MORE: Harry Kane to return sooner? ]

The reigning MLS joint-top scorer and a member of the 2015 Best XI, Kamara was back at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday. The Revs fell 2-0, thanks to Columbus’  new Kamara, and Kei was booed.

There was bitter, smarmy Kei (from MLSSoccer.com):

“I was shocked,” he said after the match. “Come on. You make so many sacrifices for an organization to really boost it. But hey, if I can bring some life to the stadium for once in the season, why not?”

And there was also sad, pensive Kei:

“It wasn’t something I asked for, to move,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It’s been tough. It’s been really, really tough. But after today, I got the final answer to everything. It’s time to move on.”

“It’s time to move on. I’m happy where I am now and I wish [Columbus] the best of luck.”

I’ve rarely understood the booing of former players unless that player grievously harmed your club on the way out the door. Here in Buffalo, I’ve seen even the least-celebrated of ex-Sabres get the boo treatment, though, so it’s not uncommon.

Winter on Allardyce corruption allegations: “Touch and go whether he survives”

England international soccer team manager Sam Allardyce, centre, his assistant Sammy Lee, left, and FA chief executive Martin Glenn, right, applaud during the launch event of UEFA Euro 2020 and the unveiling of the tournament brand and the London host city logo at City Hall, in London, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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As details continue to unfold from the Telegraph’s sting operation that may’ve caught England manager Sam Allardyce in its grasp, the question of whether the ex-Sunderland man could be fired after just months on the job is moving to the forefront.

Allardyce, 61, is on tape talking about third party ownership of players — a big no-no for FIFA — and the words have some alleging that he is giving advice on how to buck the system.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss]

Given that the manager has only overseen one match for the Three Lions and had been accused, but never charged, with accepting bribes from agents in 2006, some think he may not survive the issue.

Well-connected The Times of London writer Henry Winter says it’s possible.