This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Shower Jurgen Klinsmann and his United States men's national team with well-wishes, congratulations and pats on the back. The Americans touched every angle in the "Group of Death" by beating Ghana, drawing with Portugal and losing to Germany. As anticipated when the draw was announced on Dec. 6, 2013, the U.S. found themselves cast as underdogs. And as anticipated, the way the matches lined up, it worked to the advantage of Klinsmann's crew.
At the World Cup, it doesn't matter how you escape the group just that you do.
The Americans and the USMNT fan base would've taken three losses and advanced through goal differential if that's what it took to keep all the tirelessness of the last four years still moving in the right direction. Credit to Klinsmann, who's sometimes-cocky, gleaming outlook worked. He was hired to get American soccer on the map internationally. Advancing with Germany and leaving Portugal and Ghana in the dust is an achievement.
Give any manager Klinsmann's roster and take away Jozy Altidore for 250 minutes in three matches against that kind of competition, be tasked with rotating a still-rotating crew of center backs against Asamoah Gyan, Cristiano Ronaldo and the flurry of German attackers. Yeah, it would be worrisome. That is monumental all things considered.
Maybe it was or maybe it wasn't to Klinsmann, but he kept that patented smile on this face at press conferences and didn't waver in his belief of his team's chances to survive and then advance.
That they did. It's time to work out the kinks. The USMNT faces Belgium, a small nation awarded a dream generation of soccer players pretty much all at once. The Belgians didn't blow the likes of Algeria, Russia and South Korea away in Group H. Often times they struggled and seemed to drift mentally when clearly the more talented side.
But there is Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Marouaune Fellainiand defenders like Vincent Kompany, Daniel Van Buyten who star with the top clubs in Europe. The Belgians are a volcano begging to erupt. But they're also young and largely unproven on the world's stage. Doesn't mean they're intimidated nor will they be against the Americans Tuesday in Salvador. Last May, Belgium ran by the U.S. 4-2 in an international friendly and the young guns were a treat to watch.
It'll be a stiff test for that questionable back line Geoff Cameron? Omar Gonzalez? and Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman. Offensively, there will be several looks with talented central midfielders, wide attacking players and target forwards. While the attacks the Americans faced in the group stage were some the best the sport has to offer, doubtful Ghana, Portugal or Germany can run out danger everywhere in front of the defense.
Odds are in favor that the U.S. will need goals. Might need a couple or a few. Altidore? Is he fit to go after pulling up lame 20 minutes into the opener against Ghana on June 16? Reports out of Sao Paulo have been that Altidore is running on the side in training and doesn't look terribly hampered by the hamstring.
Doesn't mean he's ready to go 90 minutes on a bum back leg. If Altidore misses his third-straight World Cup match, captain Clint Dempsey will have to shoulder the burden and will need help in the attack unlike against Germany when he was left in the dark in the defensively-staunch 4-5-1 formation. Is Chris Wondolowski ready for a start? Can dynamic youngster Aron Johannsson figure out how to play next to or behind Dempsey? The 4-5-1 worked against Portugal and the Americans netted two second-half goals, but chances weren't abundant.
In the knockout stages, you don't need your chances to be abundant, but you do need to have the ability to create a few dangerous attacks when the time calls for it. Klinsmann's priority when hired in the summer of 2011 was to get away from the defense-first, bunker-down style the U.S. was forced to play against the best countries in the world.
He got the Americans believing and through Group G. It'll need to continue because we're in the win-or-board-a-plane-home-from-Brazil mode.
How long can Klinsmann's crew keep the party going? Here's a glass-half-full outlook: Suddenly three wins away from the Maracana in Rio on July 13. Glass-half-empty outlook: One loss from feeling 2010, 2006, 2002 all over again and four years away from the first kick of 2018.
USMNT vs. Belgium
Round of 16: Salvadaor, Brazil
Tuesday, July 1, 2 p.m.
Free USMNT watch parties: Gallivan Center Plaza, EnergySolutions Arena