7114_isi_dempseyclint_usmnt063014115 John Todd/isiphotos.com
2014 World Cup

Klinsmann on Today's Game: 'This Is the Moment'

Is American soccer ready for its closeup? We will find out today when the U.S. takes on Belgium in a round of 16 clash that could signal the start of a new era for the game in the United States.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 01, 2014
12:23 PM
THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN soccer has arrived.

Today in Salvador, Brazil, we find out if the bold, confident, charismatic Jurgen Klinsmann can lead the United States to the promised land of the World Cup quarterfinals.

The United States is good enough to advance out of the group stages—we all know that because the team has achieved that goal in three of the last four tournaments. But can these 23 players compete at a higher level? Can this team make a deep run in the most prestigious athletic competition on the planet?

While the United States advanced to the quarterfinals before in 2002, those games were played in the middle of the night and the team back then enjoyed a fraction of the support it does now. A win over Belgium, a dark-horse pick by some pundits, would bring about unprecedented enthusiasm for the U.S. national team.

Captain Clint Dempsey knows his opponents well, and is well aware of the challenge ahead. He also likes the U.S. team’s chances.

“It’s one of those questions you don’t really know is going to happen tomorrow. It’s going to be a difficult game,” Clint Dempsey said. “We are not just satisfied with just getting to the Round of 16; we want to do more. It’s a difficult challenge playing against Belgium, they have a lot of quality players, but at the same time, I think that if we play to the best of our ability, we can get the right result.”

On paper, Belgium has the better team. Its squad boasts many young players that play important roles for some of the world’s best clubs. For all the talk of the U.S. team being a rising force in the sport, Belgium is a team that expects to be a strong contender as one of the world’s best teams in the years ahead.

That said, there are factors that favor the Americans. The conditions in Brazil have been brutal, and many European teams have struggled with the heat of Brazil and the long travel between games. Because it plays in CONCACAF, the American players are used to games in such places as Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico City.

“In terms of dealing with humidity and the heat, those things, we’ve dealt with every condition during the World Cup,” Dempsey said. “We’re used to dealing with those conditions during the World Cup qualifying process, especially in Honduras when we played the game at 1 o’clock.”

“In terms of nerves, I think you just have to be confident, believe in yourself and the reason you are in a knockout stage is because you performed well,” he added. “Go out there and control things you can, and that’s how hard you work and go that extra mile for that teammate who’s next to you.

"So in terms of is it going to be a perfect game? No. Because there’ll be mistakes, but you adjust to those, and it’s about who makes the least amount of mistakes and who’s able to capitalize in the right situations, and who wants it more. So I think if we play to the best of our ability we’ll get a positive result.”

As the 2014 World Cup has demonstrated, every game at this stage is tight. Tournament favorites such as Germany, Brazil, and France all barely escaped their first knockout game. The margin between victory and defeat is extremely narrow.

Famed Chelesa coach Jose Mourinho once said: “Sometimes you win games on emotion alone.” That sentiment is true at the World Cup and this came could be an indication. While Belgium has a very young team with just one player in his 30s, the U.S. will have the veteran experience and players who want to leave a mark on the team in what could be their final World Cup.

“This is what these guys want to prove and especially as we said the other day, the more experienced players, like Clint, Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones—this is the moment,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “You have to embrace that moment and just squeeze everything out of yourself. What comes after the World Cup, we’ll have time to discuss that and looking forward, obviously, you’re always looking at the next generation coming through, but right now it’s all about Brazil.”

“It’s all about this World Cup,” Klinsmann continued. “We made it out of a difficult group and now it’s going to be 50/50 games, every game is 50/50 as you’ve seen already. The Round of 16 games were very, very tight. We need to prove ourselves right now and give everything we have and I’m confident that if every player gets to his limits tomorrow, we will have a positive outcome on our end.”

What now separates the United States from making history is 90 or maybe even 120 minutes of soccer in hot conditions against a talented opponent. Every team now that is left in the tournament is banged up and exhausted.

Looking back over the past six weeks, Klinsmann knows that his team has suffered but at the same time it was his job to prepare them. Mourinho’s revealing quote said that in these types of games, factors apart from talent can decide games.

In that sense, Klinsmann sees a team capable of beating Belgium.

“But that’s what we are looking forward to, that’s why we worked very hard starting more than six weeks ago at Stanford University in California, trying to build a foundation for this moment and to be ready to go 120 minutes,” Klinsmann said. “So, hopefully, we have everything in our legs to go 120 minutes, if necessary, but I’m very, very positive we have a really good foundation for getting everything out of Belgium. The better team should win and go forward, but we’re doing well.

"We feel fresh, we feel recovered quickly after every game we played so far, and we have great spirit in our group.”

What do you think, U.S. fans? Will the Americans rise to the occasion? Make a prediction below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter and share your thoughts on his thoughts below.

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