Belgium vs. U.S.: Five questions
FORTALEZA, Brazil - Jurgen Klinsmann has some decisions to make in terms of finding the magic elixir that will enable his side to beat Belgium.
With three group stage games now in the books -- and a precious five days to recover until the next match -- the U.S. manager has much to ponder when it comes to his lineup. There is health and form to consider, not to mention the best way to get at a Belgium side that, for all its inconsistency in winning Group H, still have a bevy of talented players who can trouble the U.S. defense.
Here is what is likely on Klinsmann's mind:
1. The Jozy factor
When the U.S. squares off against the Red Devils on July 1, it will have been 15 days since Jozy Altidore injured his left hamstring against Ghana. At Friday's press conference, Klinsmann coyly suggested that Altidore might be available against Belgium. Altidore was later seen jogging at training.
"It's 11 days now [since he got injured], and it's looking better every day, so we're optimistic to have him being part of the Belgium game," he said.
Jogging is one thing. Sprinting, cutting, shooting and taking abuse from defenders is another. At this stage, it would appear that the most optimistic assessment of Altidore's condition would see him be available for substitute duty. Even in that scenario there is considerable risk. The last thing Klinsmann wants to do is burn a substitute on an injured substitute.
That's why the more likely scenario will see Altidore sit this one out in the hope that the U.S. will prevail and have him ready for the quarterfinals.
2. Two forwards or one?
Ever since Altidore's injury, Klinsmann has opted for a five-man midfield. In the aftermath of the Portugal match, in which the U.S. attack fared well, there was little reason to change. But after watching Clint Dempsey be essentially stranded up top against Germany, Klinsmann might opt for a rethink.
So now we're back to the question that was posed prior to the Portugal match. Does Klinsmann add another forward in the form of Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski? Or should he persist with the 4-1-4-1 that was defensively solid against Germany but offered little in attack?
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Given that Dempsey is further into his recovery from a broken nose, his play with his back to goal is likely to improve.
For that reason, a player like Johannsson or Wondolowski might benefit greatly from playing underneath him. The alternative is to continue with one forward and instruct one of Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones or Michael Bradley to provide closer support. Belgium doesn't pressure the ball with the same ferocity that Germany does, so the U.S. might see more of the ball. That's why it seems likely that Klinsmann will go the one-forward route once again.
3. Gonzalez vs. Cameron
Both Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron have a tendency to have long stretches of good play marred by momentary lapses of concentration that get punished. That trait, plus questions about his fitness, is what caused Gonzalez to lose his spot to Cameron in the first place.
But after Cameron made some critical mistakes against Portugal, Klinsmann turned to Gonzalez and the move paid off. Aside from an initial hiccup, Gonzalez was outstanding, proving to be dominant in the air, and providing several key tackles on the ground.
There is a question of chemistry, as well, in that Gonzalez and Matt Besler formed a solid partnership for much of World Cup qualifying. For that reason, look for Klinsmann to stick with that duo against Belgium.
4. Bedoya or Davis?
Bedoya put in a leg-sapping amount of work, especially on the defensive side of the ball, in the Americans' first two matches. So it wasn't a surprise to see Davis be given a start against Germany. Davis was clean on the ball, but on a day when the U.S. struggled to maintain possession, he didn't see much of it.
- Belgium vs. USA, Tuesday, July 1, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Given Belgium's talent edge in terms of on-the-ball ability, it might be time for the two to switch roles, with Bedoya getting the start, and Davis, with his ability on set pieces, coming off the bench. It seems likely the U.S. will need Bedoya's defense, and with fresher legs, he might be able to contribute more on the attacking end, as well.
5. The Bradley question
The play of Bradley has been practically debated to death.
Clearly his effectiveness in the attacking third hasn't been what many observers hoped, and his touch has eroded. Would the insertion of Mix Diskerud help in this instance? Without question, he would bring a creative element to the field in terms of his passing. But when weighing these matters, it's important to recognize what the U.S. would be giving up if Bradley were removed from the lineup, namely work rate and defense.
On a day when Belgium is still likely to have more of the ball, these are traits that Klinsmann will be loath to give up.
Bradley and Diskerud need not be mutually exclusive pieces, either. If the U.S. finds itself needing a goal in the latter stages of Tuesday's game, that might be the moment to bring in Diskerud and slide Bradley into more of a holding role.