When the United States national team faced Belgium in a friendly at First Energy Stadium in May, it was a lopsided match with a telling 4-2 score line in favor of the Belgians. When the teams meet at Arena Font Nova on Tuesday, it will be for a place in the World Cup quarterfinals. So, what must the U.S. do to prevent a repeat of the last outcome? Here's a look at five areas of focus for Jurgen Klinsmann's side when they face a young, stacked Belgian side Tuesday.
Get Fabian Johnson back into the attack
When the United States has looked most dangerous this World Cup, Fabian Johnson has usually been involved in the buildup. While Belgium has yet to concede in the tournament, the commonly noted chink in the Belgian armor (if there is one) is that all four of their defenders are centerbacks with two being forced to play out of position wide. Beyond forcing likely starter Jan Vertonghen to cope with Johnson's pace and movement, pushing the U.S. right back forward would force Eden Hazard to defend rather than sitting in his preferred attacking position all game.
Drop Michael Bradley deeper
A number of pundits have speculated that Bradley's troubles in this World Cup have stemmed from him being moved into a less familiar advanced role. It turns out there's a simple solution for that. Move him back. Jermaine Jones has been more imposing going forward and his work rate ensures he'll drop back to provide defensive cover. Klinsmann made the switch for the last 10 minutes or so of the Germany match and Jones' size and strength immediately gave the Germans problems, leading to one of the team's few good chances in the game. If he sticks with the lineup as is, an ongoing rotation between Bradley and Jones could diversify the attack and force the Belgian defense to continuously adjust between the accurate passing of Bradley and the power of Jones. Klinsmann could also insert Mix Diskerud, Aaron Joahannsson or Jozy Altidore into the lineup, allowing Bradley to drop deeper.
Give DaMarcus Beasley help
Whether it's Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Nacer Chadli, Kevin Mirallas or any of the other Belgian wingers taking up a position on the U.S. left side, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots will have surely watched all three of the U.S. group-stage games and seen how susceptible Beasley can be one-on-one. The U.S. will need to slide a little extra protection Beasley's side to soak up any leaks oozing through the left flank of the American back line.
Congest the midfield
Make no mistake, Belgium has a monumental advantage in midfield in this match. Belgium's midfield substitutes may actually have the edge over the U.S. middle. This is not to disparage Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya, it's simply a measure of how deep the Red Devils are at the position. The States will need to congest the midfield to the point the Belgians feel like they're trudging through an overgrown bog every time they try to penetrate on the ground. The U.S. would also stand to benefit from pressing the ball more than they did against Germany. If they sit back and allow Hazard, Mertens, DeBruyne and company to pick them apart, they will.
Have a Plan B ready
If the United States' favored counter attack down the flanks doesn't work, there's no point trying to continuously beat a square peg in a round hole. Should they have to revert the attack inside, the Americans will need solid support sitting in behind or alongside Dempsey to maintain possession in threatening areas. If healthy enough, Jozy Altidore could solve this problem by shifting into the striker role and allowing Dempsey to drop to his usual, deeper position. If not, look for Aaron Johannsson or Mix Diskerud as good options to pair with Dempsey.