By Michael Lewis
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The United States surrendered three goals within a 15-minute span in the second half en route to a 4-2 loss to Belgium in an international friendly at FirstEnergy Stadium on Wednesday night.
Christian Benteke struck twice during that span for the Belgians, who took advantage of U.S. defensive errors to turn a 1-1 deadlock into an eventual three-goal advantage.
The defeat was the Americans' fourth in five all-time games against Belgium.
The visitors drew first blood in the sixth minute when U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard saved a shot, but his Everton teammate Kevin Mirallas pounced on a loose ball and scored from 12 yards for a 1-0 lead.
The U.S. equalized on defender Geoff Cameron's first international goal in the 23rd minute. Graham Zusi played a short corner kick to Brad Davis, who found Clint Dempsey at the back post. Dempsey headed the ball to Cameron at the left post to score on a header of his own.
Belgium poured it on in the second half as Benteke beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan - his Aston Villa team mate -- from seven yards off a right-wing feed from Kevin De Bruyne to grab a 2-1 lead in the 56th minute.
Marounane Fellaini pushed the Belgians to a 3-1 advantage in the 64th minute. The U.S. defense cleared the ball out of the penalty area, but attacker Terence Boyd could not control. De Bruyne took possession and fed Fellaini, who tallied his sixth international goal.
Benteke gave Belgium a three-goal cushion as he gathered a long pass from Steven Defour and chipped Guzan, who had come out of the net in the 71st minute.
Eight minutes later, Dempsey pulled the Americans to within 4-2 with his 33rd international tally, converting a penalty kick. Belgium's Toby Alderweireld was judged to have handled Eddie Johnson's left-wing cross into the penalty area. Dempsey drilled a shot into the low left corner for the goal.
U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden made his first international appearance since 2010, replacing Sacha Kljestan with nine minutes left in regulation. Holden's career had been stalled by three knee operations. He is not expected to be play in qualifiers, but could play a key role during the Gold Cup in July.
Both teams used the game to prepare for important FIFA World Cup qualifiers next month.
The U.S. will host Germany in its Centennial Match at RFK Stadium on Sunday, before playing in three CONCACAF hexagonal qualifiers in 12 days. The Americans, who are in third place and trail Panama and Costa Rica in the standings, visit Jamaica (June 7) and then host Panama (June 11 in Seattle) and Honduras (June 18 in Sandy, Utah).
The Belgians (5-1-1) lead Croatia by goal difference in European Group A. They will host Serbia in a qualifier on June 7.