The U.S. recorded the best loss in its history in a 1-0 defeat to Germany on Thursday. Well, maybe it wasn’t the “best” lost, but it was certainly the best anybody on the team felt after a loss. Going into its Round of 16 clash against Belgium, here are a few keys:
Getting Bradley right: Coach Jurgen Klinsmann built the team around Michael Bradley, but he was nothing short of horrible in the group stages, misplacing passes and failing to dictate tempo like fans are used to. The U.S. managed to advance in spite of him, but he must be better in order for the team to make a deep run. At his best, he’s a joy to watch, pinging passes from deep, chipping balls for strikers to run onto and putting in touch tackles defensively. We’ve already seen him at his worst in this tournament.
Staying fresh: After three games in two weeks, “fresh” is relative. ESPN commentator (and Everton manager) Roberto Martinez said the U.S. was the fittest team he’d seen in the tournament. The Americans will have to prove him right in order to advance — eight players started all three games for the U.S., and all eight of them are likely to play Tuesday. Meanwhile, Belgium was able to rest much of its first team against South Korea after wrapping up qualification early.
Don’t be intimidated. Sure, Belgium boasts the world’s best young player in Eden Hazard (sorry, Neymar), and has an embarrassment of riches in attack. And yes, Belgium crushed the USA 4-2 in a friendly last year in Cleveland. But the team has been far less than the sum of its parts offensively in the World Cup so far, and struggled against Algeria, Russia and South Korea — not exactly the Group of Death. Meanwhile, the U.S. is much better than it was the last time the two teams played.
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