Monday, June 30, 2014

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USA/Belgium Preview

*It occurs to me that there might be people reading this blog that actually enjoy soccer. People who are aware the sport exists for more than a few week period once every 4 years and who (correctly) turn elsewhere for their news on the beautiful game. So until the World Cup is over I will be covering all the action in Brazil in a vain attempt to write about something that people care about (in between blogs about cats and dick jokes and whatnot). So without further Freddy Adu (get it? ok, i'll stop), here goes WMD's first non-sarcastic soccer blog.

Scouting Belgium

Belgium may not have had the success of a Spain, Brazil, or Germany on the international stage, but due to a plethora of young talent and a shockingly easy list of group stage opponents Belgium was picked as a dark horse so much leading up to the World Cup that it would be unfair to actually call them a dark horse any more. Proven Premier League performers Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele provide a reliable platform in midfield while Kevin Mirallas and the always-dangerous Eden Hazard offer a strong threat from wide areas further up the pitch. Starting striker Romelu Lukaku has yet to score his first goal of the tournament, but is a mountain of a forward at 6'3" 220lbs and scored 16 goals in all competitions for Everton this year.

Similarly bad for the USMNT is the presence of a strong backline and a world class keeper in between the posts. Thibaut Cortois is probably already a top 10 goalkeeper in the world at the tender age of 22. It's no surprise with a backline featuring Tottenham star Jan Vertonghen, Bayern Munich veteran Daniel van Buyten, and Manchester City stalwart Vincent Kompany that Belgium's defense has only leaked 1 goal thus far in the World Cup. In fact, their defense is so good that Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen only managed to play in one group stage game.

USA Chances

All of this means that Belgium has a stronger team than the United States on paper. Yet somehow, for all their attacking talent, this Belgian squad hasn't quite gelled and only managed 3 1-goal victories against arguably the weakest group in the tournament in Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.

Look for the U.S. to start out cautiously and try to avoid another early mistake. Belgium will control possession for large portions of the match and the Americans will look to counterattack following any sloppy play by the Red Devils. If unsung hero Kyle Beckerman and his dreadlocks o' freedom can jam up passing lanes and force turnovers, counterattacks launched by Michael Bradley and featuring Clint Dempsey (and a potentially healthy Jozy Altidore) will pose a potent threat to Belgium's goal. 

WMD prediction: Heartbreaking 2-1 Belgium win in extra time

However, there is still reason to be optimistic. If the USMNT can take down a rising soccer power in Belgium, there is no reason to think they can't make even more noise. So skip work, get drunk, be rowdy. Tomorrow could be just another early exit in the World Cup for the USA, but it could also be the dawn of a new day for soccer in America.

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