United States' Clint Dempsey works out during a training session in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, June 28, 2014. The U.S. will play against Belgium on Tuesday, July 1, in the round 16 of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Preview: Despite Belgium’s talent, U.S. has reason to believe

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The United States has a semifinal appearance on its World Cup résumé, but there’s a reason why that doesn’t come up very often. That result came all the way back in 1930, when the shallow nature of the inaugural tournament meant winning your group earned a place in the semifinals. Having beaten Belgium and Paraguay in group play, the U.S. lost to Argentina in the semifinals, 6-1, bowing out in front of over 72,000 at the legendary Centenario in Montevideo.

The true gold standard of U.S. World Cup performance remains2002 – the year the team claimed its only knockout round victory. Having tarnished Portugal’s Golden Generation in the group stage, Bruce Arena’s team got goals from the best number nine in team history (Brian McBride) and a 20-year-old Landon Donovan to cruise past rival Mexico and into the quarterfinals. A controversial loss to Germany later (thanks, Torsten Frings), and the squad that went to Japan-South Korea had both legacy and martyrdom.

Twelve years later, that win in Jeonju, South Korea, remains the only bright light in the U.S.’s knockout round history. Be it 1994, when a tournament on home soil saw the team bow out 1-0 to a 10-man Brazil, or 2010, when a second straight do-or-die loss to the Black Stars handed the team a new nemesis, close calls in must-win matches only affirmed the legend of 2002.

They’re the types of loses that fuel fan nightmares. Though the team was second-best each time, each game was close enough for one break to matter. What if Frings’ hand ball gets called in `02? Or Claudio Reyna doesn’t lock knees with __ against Ghana in `06? What if Rico Clark doesn’t gift Kevin-Prince Boateng the opener in 2010, or … what if Leonardo doesn’t break Tab Ramos’s skull in `94? Even that year, the U.S. only lost by one goal.

Each result allows fans to dream, to think “We’re so close. If we’re better four years from now, we can get over the hump.”

[ MORE: How will US line up vs. Belgium in Round of 16 clash? ]
[ MORE: Jozy Altidore hands US huge boost, fit to face Belgium ]
[ MORE : Three key battles that could decide US vs. Belgium showdown ]

Tuesday may as well be four years from now. After seeing the U.S. advance out of one of the most difficult groups its ever been given, fans have every reason to believe Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is better than the team that went to South Africa. The win over Ghana and the team’s performance against Portugal proved as much. Having made strides since 2010, this year’s team may be the U.S.’s best since the standard-setter that sent El Tri home from Jeonju.

Unfortunately for the U.S., the competition is tougher this year, too. Whereas the Americans won a weak group in 2010 and played Ghana in the second round, this year’s second place finish means they’re slotted against one of the most talented teams in the tournament – a team whose talent could, in time, be seen to rival those Brazil and Germany teams that sentthe U.S. out of previous World Cups.

source: AP
Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, center, helped lead Atlético Madrid to this springs UEFA Champions League final. Eden Hazard, left, was among the best attackers in the Barclays Premier League. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Belgium, the seeded team in Group H, is one of four teams to reach the knockout round with a 3-0-0 record. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world (Thibaut Courtois), one of the game’s elite central defenders (Vincent Kompany, if healthy), and a 22-year-old attacking midfielder that helped lead his clubteam to Europe’s Champions League semifinals (Eden Hazard). Though they haven’t been to a major tournament in 12 years, Belgium has the talent to compete with any team still alive in this tournament.

Their entire starting XI will be made up of talents playing at major clubs in Europe’s biggest leagues. Over half of their team will see time in next season’s Champions League, and aside from central defender Daniel Van Buyten, none of the Red Devils’ major contributors are over 28 years old. As much people expect the Belgians to make an impact now, Brazil 2014 will be the first salvo from a Golden Generation that could redefine their country’s soccer. Belgium has only made it past the second round at one World Cup.

[ MORE: Chasing the narrative: What the numbers tell us (if anything) about Michael Bradley’s World Cup ]
[ MORE: The case for Geoff Cameron: should US defender start vs. Belgium? ]
[ MORE: So, how much of an upset would it be if the USMNT beat Belgium? ]

That, remarkably, may be where the U.S. has an edge. We don’t think of the Americans as an experienced group, but unlike the Belgians, many of them have been here before. The leadership of this U.S. team — the Clint Dempseys, DaMarcus Beasleys, Michael Bradleys, and Tim Howards of this squad — know what this pressure is like. They’ve not only played in a knockout round, but they know what it’s like to expected victory and come up short. Add in Jurgen Klinsmann, a coach that’s taken a team to the World Cup semifinals (as well as won a world title as a coach), and the U.S. may have enough “know-how” to defy expectations.

Those expectations say talent will win out on Tuesday in Salvador; that the U.S. will meet their Germany (2002) or Brazil (1994). But those expectations overlook Belgium, for all their talent, aren’t Germany or Brazil, yet. The Red Devils’ three, one-goal wins in a weak group hints they may be a tournament away from greatness. Meanwhile, the U.S.’s adaptability in the face of one of the competition’s toughest draws hints at a ability to transcend its talent.

Against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany, the U.S. showed it can play at a knockout round level. Against Algeria, Russia, and South Korea, Belgium never had to reach those heights to get out of their group.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann questions choice of Algerian referee for match against Belgium ]
[ MORE: Belgium injury update: Thomas Vermaelen out; Vincent Kompany still doubtful ]
[ MORE: You can probably stop referencing Belgium’s win vs US last year, okay? ]
[ MORE: Belgium reveal respect for US ‘keeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey ]

That doesn’t make the U.S. favorites. The world’s right to see the Americans as underdogs, though the quarterfinals are within reach. If the U.S. wins on Tuesday, the world won’t be shocked, nor will they need a series of breaks to pull it off. The result wouldn’t even be the biggest surprise of this competition. If Klinsmann’s team plays to its potential — like it already has in stretches during this tournament — it can beat Belgium.

With one minor upset, this U.S. team can create a legacy of its own. If they can show the Belgians are still one tournament away, the United States will return to the quarterfinals.

MLS Weekend Preview: New York City, Colorado rumble in the Bronx

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Two weeks ago, we delved into the absurd home field advantage that comes with hosting matches in Major League Soccer.

Since then, it’s gotten nuttier.

The home side was taking 1.85 points per game as of July 10 — full article here — and snaring a point or better in more than 82 percent of home fixtures this year.

[ MORE: Ten best transfers so far ]

Since then, road teams have won a total of two matches in 26 tries moving, making the home team record for the season 107W-67D-34L. That’s now 1.88 points per game and points in close to 84 percent of games.

So, of course, this week’s marquee match-up could defy the trend.

Game of the Week

instagram.com/jermainejunior/
instagram.com/jermainejunior/

With apologies to FC Dallas and its three point advantage on Colorado, each conference’s top team will face off Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

The Rapids bring their MLS-best 1.9 points-per-game into the match, while NYC currently sits atop the East despite its second humbling at the hands of the Red Bulls.

Colorado has done a masterful job at finding points on the road, with two wins and five draws in nine tries. That should bode well for them despite the cross-country flight, especially when you toss in NYC’s meager 3W-3L-5T mark at home this season.

Elsewhere

Really, it’s a case of studs and duds. The first three matches of Sunday are living in high-five country, while the majority of the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoffs don’t inspire much outside of the Trillium Cup showdown in Toronto and a “Dominic Kinnear Derby” in Texas.

Full schedule
Colorado at NYCFC — 3 p.m. ET Saturday
Portland at Sporting KC — 2 p.m. ET Sunday
L.A. Galaxy at Seattle — 4 p.m. ET Sunday
Vancouver at FC Dallas — 6 p.m. ET Sunday
Montreal at DC United — 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday
New York Red Bulls at Chicago — 7 p.m. ET Sunday
Real Salt Lake at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. ET Sunday
Columbus at Toronto — 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday
New England at Orlando City — 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday
San Jose at Houston — 9 p.m. ET Sunday

Klopp frowns at Pogba fee: “I am trying to build a team, a real team”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Jurgen Klopp the manager of Liverpool faces the media during the Liverpool UEFA Europa League Cup Final Media Day at Melwood Training Ground on May 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Jurgen Klopp isn’t pleased with the mega money transfer fees being used to “collect” players from around world football.

The Liverpool boss says he doesn’t know how much he’s allowed to spend on one player, as no move he’s made has really required that sort of question.

[ MORE: Ten best transfers so far ]

He sees club football as a means of assembling a team with critical pieces, not buying and then building around a player.

And Klopp said he would do it differently even if he had the green light to spend absurd amounts of dough.

From The Daily Mail:

“If you bring one player in for £100m and he gets injured, then it all goes through the chimney,’ he said.

“The day that this is football, I’m not in a job anymore, because the game is about playing together.”

“If I spend money, it is because I am trying to build a team, a real team. Barcelona did it. You can win championships, you can win titles, but there is a manner in which you want it.”

Klopp has spent a lot of money, but he’s spaced it out in picking up six players for around 2/3 of the Pogba fee this summer (Granted two were on free transfers).

That said, he didn’t exactly take over a club lacking star power that required loads and loads of buys. Klopp is at a different standard in answering to the media and public right now. While that’s pretty well-deserved, the way he’s getting credit for the price tags on assets he’s sold is kind of hilarious.

Either way, we are loving Klopp in the Premier League. Bring on the season.

Ten most noteworthy transfers of the summer (so far)

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - JULY 02:  Mats Hummels of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between Germany and Italy at Stade Matmut Atlantique on July 2, 2016 in Bordeaux, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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As Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United moves closer, where will it rank on the list of the most promising moves of the summer?

Putting cost aside given the giant budgets of world football, Pogba’s move will probably top the proverbial pops once completed.

[ MORE: Guzan finds new PL home ]

Yet this summer has been an incredible one for transfers, with so many Premier League teams leading the way in business, that names like Sadio Mane, Michy Batshuayi, Nico Gaitan, and Nolito miss out list (and they are just the tip of the iceberg).

Here’s our Top Ten so far

10. Mario Gotze, Bayern Munich –> Borussia Dortmund

Will a return “home” do the trick for the World Cup clinching attacker?

9. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Borussia Dortmund –> Manchester United

The Armenian attacker was somewhat unheralded. No more.

8. Andre Schurrle, Wolfsburg –> Borussia Dortmund

BVB reaps the rewards from a still questionable Chelsea decision.

7. Granit Xhaka, Borussia Monchengladbach –> Arsenal

The big money man is a perfect fit for how Arsene Wenger likes to play.

6. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli –> Juventus

Whether his big season was an aberration or not, that’s a lot of dough.

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

5. Ilkay Gundogan, Borussia Dortmund –> Manchester City

His possession game should be a jewel in Pep Guardiola’s crown.

4. Miralem Pjanic, Roma –> Juventus

One of the best in the world could even be an improvement over Pogba.

3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain –> Manchester United

Let’s hope he doesn’t read this and see he’s not No. 1 (and soon to be No. 4)

2. Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund –> Bayern Munich

Technically announced a while ago, but Bayern is almost unfair. Enjoy, Carlo.

  1. N'Golo Kante, Leicester City –> Chelsea

An absolute beast, and a player that will seamlessly slide into Antonio Conte’s plans as a center piece.

PHOTO: Drogba enjoyed scoring on Arsenal, Cech in MLS All Star Game

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Didier Drogba and Petr Cech of Chelsea pose with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Didier Drogba got to score against an old rival and a former teammate, and this pleases him greatly.

The Ivorian legend and Montreal Impact striker scored the lone MLS goal as the All Stars fell to Arsenal 2-1 on Thursday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

But that goal went behind former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was Drogba’s goalkeeper from 2004-2012 and 2014-15 at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Man City plays tennis on Great Wall ]

Both players joined Chelsea in July 2004, and Cech used Twitter to post this photo from a post-match meet-up.

Drogba looks happy.