Michael Bradley & Jermaine Jones

Three ways the US can overcome Belgium to reach World Cup quarters



The U.S. national teams biggest game in decades, perhaps ever, is just a few hours away.

A win against Belgium in the Round of 16 clash in Salvador would set up their first World Cup quarterfinal since 2002 and could well be the biggest win in U.S. soccer history.

[ RELATED: How will the U.S. line up vs. Belgium? ]

That being said, here are three ways the U.S. can overcome a Belgium side stacked with stars in what should be a tense and psychical encounter.

Here it goes…

Get it wide, early

If Belgium’s defense has one weakness, it is that fact that two center backs are playing as full backs. Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen is likely to start on the left, while Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld will play on the right. Both are great defenders but lack pace and are susceptible to jumping into challenges. Whenever Vertonghen stood in at left back for Spurs in the Premier League last season, he looked unsure in possession and less at home on the left. Both he and Alderweireld are over six-foot tall and if the likes of Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya or whoever starts out wide gets at them from the get-go, the U.S. could have plenty of joy on the flanks.

Lock down the midfield

The midfield has been the USA’s strongest area thus far, even if Michael Bradley’s performances haven’t lived up to his usual high standards. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman have been two of the USA’s best players, with Beckerman sweeping up all the loose balls in front of the back four with ease (the dude might as well have a cigar in his mouth) and Jones’ high-energy approach unnerving opponents. Belgium’s midfield duo of Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel are both extremely physical and the U.S. will have to win that midfield battle to get things going. Fellaini will try to wander in-behind Beckerman and support Lukaku but if  Beckerman (or whoever else is in the midfield) can lock him down, then the Manchester United man could be a ghost. Also, don’t expect Jones not to pick up a yellow in this one as his tough-tackling, along with Bradley and Beckerman snapping in, is needed to disturb Belgium’s engine room.

Stop Lukaku and Hazard 

Sounds simple enough… but it certainly isn’t. On their day Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard can rip opponents apart. How many times did we see Lukaku take one big touch past a defender, then striding past them before smashing the ball home in the last two PL seasons? As for Hazard, his trickery, pace and guile will give Fabian Johnson and the rest of the USA’s defenders plenty of problems. You can hit these two hard in the tackle and they keep coming back for more but it is unlikely that Lukaku will have come up against specimen such as Geoff Cameron or Omar Gonzalez (or whoever partners Matt Besler at CB) and Hazard can easily get rattled. If the U.S. get in their face and upset Belgium’s star talents, this could do the trick.

College Soccer Update: Stingy Kentucky picking up speed; Cal Poly’s overhead wonder (video)

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Three-hundred thirty-two minutes and 26 seconds. That’s how long it’s been since an opponent has managed to put a ball into the goal behind the University of Kentucky men’s team.

It’s a statistic which not only makes an impression, but carries hope; Hope that the Wildcats will improve upon last season’s tournament work that saw them exit their conference tourney and the NCAA tournament early.

“If you go back to last year we had a really good run, but got knocked out in our conference tournament and then in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,” said fourth-year head coach Johan Cedergren. “Peaked too early and got a little overconfident.”

[ MORE: College soccer news ]

The Wildcats are atop Conference USA with a 3-0 record in league play, having knocked off a strong New Mexico side this weekend. They’ll face Evansville and Ohio State the following two Wednesdays before meeting fellow CUSA 3-0 squad South Carolina.

It’s all according to plan for Cedergren, who is experiencing the senior years of his first recruiting class. One of those is goalkeeper Callum Irving, who is one clean sheet away from making program history for the most blankings as a Wildcat.

It’s helped having a versatile team to help out. Despite injuries to a pair of key backs, junior center back Jordan Wilson and senior holding mid Kristoffeer Tollefsen have combined with Irving to keep the side well-organized.

[ USMNT: Looking back at the top moments in the Mexico rivalry ]

“Over here you are very stat focused and Callum wouldn’t have these numbers without (Wilson),” Cedergren said. “And Tollefsen plays that holding mid role that is very hard to quantify. He made third team all conference last year, but he’s one of the best players and he’s playing at 75% percent.”

Cedegren also credits Hermann Award watch lister Napo Matsoso, who leads the team in shots, with keeping teams off-balance. And between Irving and the attack, the coach hopes that this season is the year the Wildcats will peak at the right time.

Three stars

  1. Oregon State — The Beavers opened PAC-12 play with a pair of 1-0 wins, knocking off UCLA with a Timmy Mueller (remember the name goal) before knocking off San Diego State by the same score. Next weekend? Cal and Stanford, both on the road.
  2. Nick DePuy, UCSB —  The 6-foot-4 junior forward has only been held off the score sheet thrice this season, and fired off 10 shots including three goals this weekend. Two were road game-winners at UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge.
  3. Chase Minter, Cal Poly — All three stars stay on the West Coast, thanks to Minter’s work setting himself up for this bicycle kick goal.

Other notes

— Creighton is back as the unrivaled No. 1 in the country amongst men’s Division I sides, claiming all 24 votes.
— Only one change in the Top 10, as Virginia moves up a spot to No. 10 and Elon falls three spots to No. 13. Leaping into the Top 25 after not receiving any votes last week is Oregon State. Kentucky, Butler and Syracuse move from receiving votes to Top 25.
— There s a single player who is in both the D-1 Top Ten in goals and assists, and his name will be familiar to those who read this space: Buffalo’s Russell Cicerone has eight goals and six assists after a 2+3 performance at St. Bonaventure on Saturday night.
— Also No. 1: Midwestern State (Men’s D2), Franklin & Marshall (Men’s D3), North Carolina (Women’s D1), Gannon (Women’s D2), Messiah (Women’s D3)

Samir Nasri rules out return to France squad; Likes MLS over Ligue 1

Manchester City's Samir Nasri celebrates after scoring during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park Stadium, Liverpool, England, Sunday Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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When Samir Nasri is done with his time at Manchester City, he doesn’t want a return to Ligue 1. We knew that. He’s said it in March, and again over the summer.

But his willingness to stay away from home goes for club and country, as he’s not interested in a return to the national team fold. Heck, they could hire his family and he’s scoff at the idea.

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Nasri played in Marseille from his age 10 year through 2004, when he headed to Arsenal. He also scored five goals in 41 caps before being removed from the French fold by Didier Deschamps.

That hurt.

From Sky Sports:

“Even if my dad is coach, I will not return,” he said on French television. “I’ve suffered with the selections… missing a World Cup destroys you a bit. After 2012 I wanted to stop but my father told me I had to play the World Cup. I tried to be good.

“I do not see myself returning to Ligue 1. I love the Premier League. I like my life in England,” said Nasri. “I see myself going to play in the MLS, to discover something other than France.”

That makes at least three times Nasri has proffered a “come get me… eventually” plea to American powers-that-be.

Nasri is a bit of a loose cannon, but he’s also the sort of player who could punish defenses in MLS if given the chance to operate as the focal point of an attack. Perhaps with Didier Drogba in Montreal?

No, his time at the Etihad Stadium isn’t nearing an end just yet but… Yes, please. Maybe Nasri is one of those “In the league but not at the risk of my favorite team” players, but yes, please.