CLEVELAND (AP) — After the stomping, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann got stumped.
Not long after his team was overrun 4-2 on Wednesday night in an international friendly by a talented Belgium team that dominated the Americans for 90 minutes, Klinsmann was asked if there were three positives to be taken from the loss.
“Um,” Klinsmann said, pausing. “Three? You challenge me with three?”
Klinsmann smiled and then danced around coming up with an adequate answer.
There really wasn’t much he could say.
Christian Benteke scored two goals in the second half and Marouane Fellaini had another as Belgium took advantage of U.S. defensive breakdowns and scored three times after halftime in a one-sided thrashing of the Americans, who hoped the match — and an upcoming one Sunday in Washington D.C. against Germany — would help get them ready for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Belgium, boasting a strong roster with 10 players from the English Premier League, overpowered a U.S. team that has some work to do on defense before it can even think about making the field for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
“We just have to tighten up,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard, who gave up just one goal before he was replaced in the second half by Brad Guzan. “Most of the teams we’re going to play have firepower, so it’s on us to put the other teams on our terms defensively. We should be the ones taking the space away or giving them space. We should be dictating the tempo of the game.”
Benteke, who plays for Aston Villa, scored in the 56th and 71st minutes for Belgium, ranked 15th in the world and considered a rising European power.
Geoff Cameron scored in the 22nd minute and Clint Dempsey pounded in a penalty kick in the 80th minute for the U.S, which will play World Cup qualifiers next month against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras.
Klinsmann figured Belgium would provide a stiff challenge for his evolving team, which is missing several key players. And while the Americans had some nice moments, the Belgians controlled the game from the outset.
Still, Klinsmann said it was a good learning experience for his squad to play against one of the world’s best teams.
“This is why we want to play teams like Belgium and like Germany and like Russia.” Klinsmann said, “because there is so much that you can read from those games and there is so much you can see. Obviously, you want to win them. But I would rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador 100 times because that is when you learn.”
Before a crowd of 27,720, Belgium took advantage of poor defense to score three of its goals.
With the score 1-1 in the 56th minute, a turnover by American midfielder Brad Davis was compounded by defender Omar Gonzalez’s failure to clear the ball. Gonzalez could have easily booted it over the touch or end line, but instead left the ball for Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, who centered it to Benteke for an easy tap-in.
“I took the touch a little bit too far,” Gonzalez explained. “But that’s not going to deter me from taking that touch again. Other than that, you learn from it and hopefully we come out a lot better against Germany and we can start preparing for the games that matter. These games are really just for experience.”
Guzan came up with a nice save in the 64th minute, but seconds later he was fishing the ball from his net again. Fellaini, the Everton midfielder known as much for his puffy hairdo as his skills, headed his goal into the left corner off a beautiful cross by De Bruyne to make it 3-1.
In the 71st minute, Benteke streaked behind defenders DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler and chipped in a pass from Steven Defour.
The U.S. later cut the deficit in half when referee Jeffery Solis awarded a penalty kick after calling Toby Alderweireld for a questionable hand ball in the box.
Earlier, while being outplayed and unable to get off a shot, the U.S. tied it 1-1 in the 22nd minute on Cameron’s first international goal.
Graham Zusi sent an effective short corner kick across the goal mouth to Dempsey posted on the right side. The U.S. captain alertly headed it back over Belgium’s defense to Cameron, who jumped and headed it past keeper Simon Mignolet.
Howard was tested a few more times in the first half as Belgium mounted several scoring threats and outshot the Americans 5-1 in the first 45 minutes.
The Americans also caught two fortunate breaks in the opening half.
In the 26th minute, speedy Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku’s goal was waved off by an offside call. However, TV replays appeared to show Lukaku was onside.
Also, Beasley, playing in his 100th international game, might have gotten away with a hand ball when he blocked a pass inside the box.
The first collapse by the U.S. defense allowed Belgium to take a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. De Bruyne played a through ball to Lukaku, who got behind Gonzalez. Lukaku got off a quick shot from the left side that was smothered by Howard, who was unable to control the rebound and Kevin Mirallas, Howard’s teammate at Everton, scored on a nice chip into the empty net.
An angry Howard got up from the ground screaming after the goal.
“I’m angry pretty much by every goal,” Howard said, smiling. “Any time there is a defensive breakdown you want to correct it, and at this level often times you get punished for it. That’s a lesson to be learned.”
On this night, there were a lot of those for the Americans.