The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

World Cup

July 1, 2014

The post-Donovan era really hasn’t been that bad, after all

I was wrong. When the 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup was announced, I was one of those ardent U.S. supporters who thought manager Jurgen Klinsmann had surely lost his mind.

“No Landon Donovan?” I thought. “And he’s bringing Julian Green?”

And now, two weeks after the start of the World Cup began and on the day the United States faces Belgium in the knockout round, I have to admit it.

I was wrong, and I’m sorry.

While there have been moments that I have looked at my buddies and said, “This is where Donovan would come in handy” and meant it, I now know that this U.S. team couldn’t have the U.S.’s all-time leader in goals and assists.

Klinsmann had a message to send, and it has been received.

This isn’t the same U.S. team that we’ve known since a young, pre-receding hairline (hey, I’m bald, I can make that comment). Landon Donovan burst onto the scene and into the hearts and minds of the American soccer fan.

It was the opening match that this was most evident. The Yanks faced off against Ghana — the same squad which had eliminated the United States from the last two World Cups. The U.S. was finally able to get by the Black Stars, and did so using the unlikeliest of ways — a John Brooks header off of a Graham Zusi corner kick.

Klinsmann sent the message that a new era had begun for the U.S., one built the American way — from the ground up — and not relying on the stars of yesterday to get to the promised land.

That’s why the additions of young players like Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Green and Mix Diskerud (the latter two have yet to see the pitch in Brazil) over Donovan and Eddie Johnson were so important.

It’s about bringing the young, fresh-faced, future stars of the U.S. to the world’s biggest stage and letting them get that first taste. In four years? They’ll be hungry for more.

n Not so friendly

The United States and Belgium played in an exhibition late in 2013. That match, held in Cleveland, was a 4-2 dismantling of the United States by the Red Devils.

While Belgium proved it is an extremely talented team, the U.S. team that played in the city by the lake is hard to compare to the one that will take to the pitch today.

Absent from the lineup that match were two important parts of the U.S. strategy, Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson. In their place were Sacha Kjelstan and Clarence Goodson, two American players not on the 23-man roster. Three of Belgium’s goals were scored against backup goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Klinsmann opted to go with a 4-4-2 formation, with Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top, which is a far cry from the diamond or midfield heavy formation the U.S. manager has used this world cup.

Speaking of Dempsey and Altidore ...

n True grit

It doesn’t get much more American than John Wayne, with his tough cowboy image wrangling up the bad guys, and never, ever taking a day off.

One can only question if U.S. players Dempsey and Jermain Jones are fans of The Duke. The two central figures in the American game plan will enter today’s match playing with broken noses. Dempsey broke his in the first match of the tournament, taking a foot to the face from a Ghanian defender, while Jones broke his after colliding with Alejandro Bedoya against Germany. The two Americans have played the full 90 minutes in the first three matches for the U.S. and will be called on to do the same today.

They won’t be the only Americans overcoming injury to play. U.S. soccer announced Monday afternoon that forward Altidore, who has missed all but 22 minutes of the World Cup, will be available for Klinsmann against Belgium. Altidore went down with a hamstring injury in the opening half against Ghana and has been training to get back.

Altidore’s availability will be huge for the U.S., especially late in the match. Belgium has allowed only one goal through its three matches in the tournament. Altidore’s back-to-goal ability, plus his ability to finish could come in handy against a depleted Belgium back line, that features four central backs and will likely be without captain Vincent Kompany, as well as right back Anthony Vanden Borre, due to injuries. They will have Thiabut Courtois in goal though, and he has proven to be one of the best keepers in the tournament.

I wouldn’t expect to see Klinsmann call upon the Sunderland striker early, but the fact that Altidore is available should help the U.S. if it progresses by Belgium — where a likely date with Lionel Messi and Argentina is waiting.

n A big game on the big screen

Fans looking for a good gameday experience should head to The Raleigh Playhouse at 403 Neville St. in Beckley.

The U.S.-Belgium game will be shown on the theatre’s big screen, free of charge, beginning at 4 p.m. The event is open to all ages.

— E-mail: jrollins@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.

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