World Cup: U.S. escaped death, now can they defeat Devils?

Jan 27, 2023; Carson, CA, USA; A USA Soccer logo at a press conference at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 27, 2023; Carson, CA, USA; A USA Soccer logo at a press conference at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The United States cheated “death” in the 2014 World Cup, only to find themselves on the “highway to hell” and now need to escape the devils in the beginning of their road to the World Cup final.

But after a four-shot performance in their lackadaisical 1-0 loss against Germany, their battle cry of “#LetsDoThis,” as advertised on the USMNT’s social media sites should become “#LetsDoSomething.”

On paper, Belgium should obliterate the United States, much like they did nearly 13-months ago in their 4-2 win over the U.S. in an international friendly in Cleveland.  However, the United States has been nothing close to the team they’re supposed to be on paper during this World Cup tournament, therefore, toss out whatever “on-paper” predictions you may have on either team.  On Tuesday, it’s knock out or be knocked out.

“They’re a young, hungry, really fit strong team,” – Tim Howard

“It’s a country that doesn’t have the history of Germany or Italy,” U.S. veteran Michael Bradley said to the New York Daily News.  “But if you look at the last few years, they have to be talked (about) as one of the best in Europe.”

Although Belgium swept through Group H, defeating Algeria, Russia and South Korea, the Red Devils only scored a total of four goals in the three matches.  The Red Devils recorded a combined 35 shots during their group stage play, 28 of which were on goal.  But, again, that only resulted in four goals.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re 3-0, there’s no prize for that.” Bradley added.  “You come through the group or you don’t.  This is the first checkpoint.”

Where Belgium stands out is on the defensive side of the ball.  The Red Devils have given hell to their opponents, figuratively, allowing just one goal during group play.  That one goal came in the group stage opener against Algeria.  Belgium has shut out their last two opponents in group play, Russia and South Korea.  Their group stage performance follows their solid play in the World Cup qualifiers where they allowed just four goals in 10 qualifying matches.

More from Soccer

“They’re a young, hungry, really fit strong team,” U.S. keeper Tim Howard mentioned.  “Hopefully they won’t take flight yet.”

“A lot of them are playing for club teams in the Champions League.  There’s nothing like that – except the World Cup.”

Howard’s overall optimism defines the American’s attitude going into Tuesday: optimistic.

The U.S.’s optimistic attitude showed throughout their first two matches in the group stage, but was almost nowhere to be found against Germany in their 1-0 loss last Thursday in Recife.

Their four goals during group stage play match the total of their Belgian counterparts, however they scored their four goals on less shots (27 shots, 18 on-goal) than the Red Devils.  The U.S will have to be aggressive offensively against the young Belgian backline, taking shots and creating chances if they want to win and advance to the quarterfinals.

Jozy Altidore, who missed the last two group stage matches, could possibly return in time for the American’s Round of 16 match against Belgium.

Look for the U.S. to use their speed to exploit a Belgian backline that features four center backs across.  Fabian Johnson has to be able to attack the outside of the backline alongside Jozy Altidore, considering Altidore is healthy.  Altidore’s absence has put a lot of pressure on Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones to create and finish shots.  Altidore’s presence would draw a lot of attention to him due to his shot creating ability, opening the door for everyone else.  In their friendly in May, the Belgian defenders paid a lot of attention to Altidore, so look for the same this time around.

The U.S. also has to win and control possession of the ball, especially in the midfield.  The one thing the U.S. didn’t do is control the ball against Germany, allowing Germany to open the match with possession inside U.S. territory for the first 15 minutes of the match.  The U.S. needs to place pressure on the young Belgians from the start.  Bradley has to limit his mistakes in the midfield and not allow Belgium to go on the counter-attack off any errors, as highlighted by the end of the U.S. vs. Portugal match.

The U.S. has some history behind them going into Tuesday as well.  Despite losing four straight to Belgium, the only U.S. win against the Red Devils came in a World Cup match in 1930, 3-0 in the inaugural World Cup tournament.  All of the Belgian wins against the United States came in international friendlies.

This time around there’s no help coming from the outside.  As mentioned before, it’s knock out or be knocked out.  Go hard or go home, however you want to call it.  The task ahead may be tough for the Americans and the chips may be against them.  Kind of like the “Group of death.”

Now we have to wait and see if the United States can “cheat death” again.