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

2 Comments

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.

Chelsea loans Miazga back to Vitesse for second-straight season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Matt Miazga is back again in the Netherlands.

Chelsea announced Friday that it had loaned the American international to Vitesse for the second-consecutive year on a season-long loan. Miazga made 19 starts last season in all competitions and another 10 appearances for Vitesse off the bench, with one goal scored in the run to the KNVB Cup title, the club’s first in its history,

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Despite his rise through the U.S. youth ranks and success with the New York Red Bulls in 2015 before moving to Chelsea, Miazga only made his first U.S. Men’s National Team start at the 2017 Gold Cup, playing the full 90 in the USA’s 3-0 win over Nicaragua.

Miazga went straight from the Gold Cup back to Vitesse to join up for preseason training.

“I look back with pleasure on my first year at Vitesse,” the 22-year-old Miazga told Vitesse’s website. “I felt very welcome and we have all made historic success. That success will be expanded this coming season and I will continue to develop myself. That’s why I returned as soon as possible after winning the Gold Cup. We are going to compete for the second prize in the club’s history. ”

While it’s disappointing that Miazga won’t be able to challenge for a place at Chelsea next season, he could do worse than facing the challenge of the Eredivisie’s huge array of talented attackers, and after another year of seasoning, he could be ready to play in England, with or without Chelsea.

More importantly for him, with the World Cup coming up, even though he’s on the fringe of the World Cup roster right now, getting regular matches in the Eredivisie will help his cause more than playing for Chelsea’s reserves.

Pulisic: Dortmund can win the league

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic isn’t short on confidence these days.

The rising star for the U.S. Men’s National Team is currently in preseason training with Borussia Dortmund, and he believes his side can push Bayern Munich for the title. Bayern has won five-straight league titles, but the last team other than Munich to win was Dortmund itself in 2012.

“We’ve got a big chance to win the league this coming season,” Pulisic said, via German publication Kicker.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Pulisic has been firing on all cylinders so far in preseason. During Dortmund’s tour of China, Pulisic had three assists in a 3-1 win over AC Milan, and he also started and went the full 90 against Bochum on July 22 back in Germany.

The 18-year-old is coming off a breakout season for the Black and Yellows, scoring five goals with 13 assists over 43 games between the Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League.

“Last season was a good step in my development,” Pulisic said, noting he wants to be “more dangerous” in the attack. “I want to build on that.”

Of course, Pulisic followed the U.S. Men’s National Team at the Gold Cup, taking the title for the sixth time. In less than a year’s time, Pulisic will likely be on the field, starting for the U.S. at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the hopes and dreams of many Americans on his shoulders.

“(It was) a good victory,” Pulisic said of the final.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Bale’s agent laughs off speculation

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It appears Gareth Bale has no plans of following Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez out of Real Madrid this summer.

“It’s a ridiculous, stupid story,” Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett told the BBC, following reports that Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane wouldn’t promise Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo that they’d staying with the club this summer.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Of course, these prompted counter reports that Manchester United could take advantage of possible instability at the Santiago Bernabeu and swoop in for Bale, but it seems that Bale is not for sale.

Bale played just 27 times for Real Madrid last season in all competitions, scoring nine goals with three assists while dealing with multiple injuries. His entire career at Real Madrid in fact has been plagued by injury, but ahead of a World Cup year with Wales still in contention for a spot in Russia, Bale will be extra motivated to stay fit this season.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the world:

(more…)

Neymar storms off after training dustup with teammate

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Neymar just won’t stay out of the headlines.

As his long-rumored “will he, won’t he go” transfer saga between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona continues, Neymar stormed out of training on Thursday after getting into a tussle with teammate Nelson Semedo.

A video from the Daily Mail shows Neymar pushing Semedo before walking off and removing his training bib.

Neymar has reportedly agreed to personal terms with PSG over a move to France, but PSG have yet to come up with the nearly $260 million it would cost to trigger Neymar’s release clause. The news of Neymar possibly leaving Barcelona came as a shock, as he’s been content since joining the club to play slightly in the shadow of teammates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

If this fight is any indication, Neymar’s head could be turned and should PSG trigger the release clause, Neymar could be heading to Paris once Barcelona returns this weekend from its American sojourn.

In spite of all the transfer speculation, Neymar has dazzled for Barcelona on its tour of the U.S., scoring three goals in two games and delighting the thousands in attendance.