The United States put together a performance to forget on Wednesday night, losing 4-2 to Belgium in Cleveland in an international friendly. A young, inexperienced back line made several mistakes that led eventually to a comfortable rout for the Red Devils.
Before we say anything, let's recognize that Belgium is totally stacked. Kompany, Benteke, Lukaku, Defour, Fellaini, Vermaelen...those guys and so many others are incredible professionals playing for top-level clubs. If Belgium qualifies for the 2014 World Cup, they're sure to make real serious noise. And they're young, too - expect them to make more waves at Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018.
Having said that, this wasn't a great match for the US. The first goal was a product of lax defending and terrible ball-watching as Tim Howard came out and did everything he was supposed to do to deny the initial shot, but Geoff Cameron was slow to react to the rebound, allowing Kevin Mirallas to chip Howard and nestle the ball into the back of the net.
Cameron redeemed himself a bit later with the second goal of the game, which he scored. Clint Dempsey headed a Graham Zusi corner back across goal, and Cameron nodded it home to bring the Yanks level. It was an excellent sequence from a set piece and showcased what the Nats are capable of doing with their size and technical ability from corners and free kicks.
Later, Omar Gonzalez made a mistake, intercepting a ball in toward substitute goalkeeper Brad Guzan but allowing his touch to take it into the path of Kevin de Bruyne, who crossed for Christian Benteke. The Aston Villa hitman finished easily into a mostly empty net. That was major mistake number two for the USA back line.
Team defense let the Yanks down next as a broken corner led to another de Bruyne cross. This one floated to the far post for Marouane Fellaini, who may as well have been unmarked has he used his head to nod the ball inside the post and into the back of the net.
Finally, a lack of midfield pressure on Steven Defour allowed the playmaker to fire off an excellent through-ball for Benteke, who beat the left side of the defense into the box and finished past Guzan for the fourth and final goal of Belgium's night. It was just another moment where the USA defense and midfield fell asleep, allowing a lethal team like the Red Devils to capitalize.
Clint Dempsey pulled one more back for the Yanks with an 80th minute penalty, but the game had been decided.
If we can pull anything from this, it's that the youngsters on the USA back line have a long way to go. The starting line was half good, half shaky; DaMarcus Beasley and Clarence Goodson had at least decent games, while both Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron made glaring mistakes that showed up on the score sheet for Belgium. If that's the defense of the future, the future doesn't look particularly bright. Cameron, Gonzalez, and fellow "newish" defender Matt Besler will need some work integrating into the national team XI and had better put in some more positive performances than this going forward. Germany, at least, will be far less forgiving.
Sacha Kljestan also got the start in midfield, with the idea that he would be an attacking catalyst in Jurgen Klinsmann's 4-3-3. He was not. It isn't so much that Kljestan was poor on the evening; it was more that he wasn't noteworthy. He really needed to provide more for the team in possession and in the attack, and while he wasn't detrimental, again, he didn't wow anybody. I'm not sure it was enough to tell Klinsmann that he deserves a usual place in the squad.
Final note: Stuart Holden made his first national team appearance since 2010. This is excellent news. Before the most recent time he did in his knee, Holden had become arguably the greatest American midfielder in the game today, able to get it done at both sides of the pitch with equal proficiency. He certainly was the most important piece to Bolton's midfield a couple years back. Hopefully he can stay healthy and reclaim that status again.