By Michael Lewis
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The U.S. National Team was licking its wounds and then some after a 4-2 setback against Belgium in an international friendly in Cleveland on Wednesday night, but the Americans just might thank the European side if the team accrues some vital points in World Cup qualifying matches next month.
"Obviously a negative result, but I think an important game because it gets us right [on] our toes now," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters at FirstEnergy Stadium. "We know where players are, and we had to jump start these three and a half weeks, having guys come in on Sunday and Monday and throw them into a game right away.
"There's a lot we can learn from these opponents. This is why we play teams like Belgium, like Germany, like Russia or like Italy because there's so much that you can read from those games."
Klinsmann said he did not think losing by two goals at home would hurt the Americans' chances in the qualifiers.
"Not at all," he said. "Those are games that you need to play. There is no player that is going to have sleepless nights over the next couple days. They understand that when they make mistakes they pay for it in a defeat. I don't think that confidence comes into play there. They understand why certain things happen and then you can correct it."
The Americans certainly won't have much time to correct things. They will host Germany in U.S. Soccer's Centennial Game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Then crunch time really begins as the U.S. visits Jamaica in a FIFA World Cup qualifier on June 7, before hosting Panama (Seattle) and Honduras (Sandy, Utah) on June 11 and June 18, respectively.
"Every day's work on the training field going through certain elements and principles that help us build toward Jamaica," Klinsmann said. "That is what we are working towards. We want to make sure there is a better flow and a better understanding on the field and better communication for when the games come that we badly need to win. There is no problem with confidence."
U.S. defender-midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who earned his 100th cap on Wednesday, embraced the two difficult friendlies prior to qualifying.
"It's great, it's great," he said. "As players we want to play these types of games, we want to test ourselves against the best in the world and we have no fear going into these games. Obviously we want the result to go our way more times than not, but today they had more than we did. That's the way it goes sometimes, the way the cookie crumbles, but we can look at the tape and look at our positives and our weaknesses and our negatives and learn from it and get ready for game against Germany."
The U.S. learned that it must solidify its defense if it wants to book a berth at Brazil 2014.
"We obviously at this level we need to tighten up," said goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played in the first half against Belgium. "I think anybody would tell you that. Most of the teams are going to come up with fire power, so it's on us to put the other team on our terms defensively. We should be dictating that. Our line of confrontation, our pressure on and off the ball, whether our back line drops or steps up, those are all things that dictate the tempo of the game."