CLEVELAND – The pressure’s not on quite yet.
Yes, the United States are not taking upcoming friendly challenges against Belgium (Wed., 8 pm ET, ESPN and UniMas) and Germany (Sun., 2:30 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas) lightly, but in the backs of their minds, they remain focused on the three-game, 11-day stretch starting June 7 that will go a long way to determining the USA's World Cup qualifying fate.
“We can’t just sit back, we have to be on the front foot and it’s really two no-pressure games,” US captain Clint Dempsey said of their upcoming friendly clashes. “It’s a warm-up for the World Cup qualifying games. That’s the most important thing. And it’s great to play against those caliber of teams so you can hit the ground running come the first game of qualifying.”
Playing in the friendly confines of stadiums in Cleveland and Washingston, even against teams as talented as the two European powers they will be facing, is a world away from the hostile reception the team will receive in Jamaica on June 7 and the style of play that will be employed by Panama and Honduras in two qualifiers on US soil.
Still, the US players believe playing against two of the most talented teams in Europe will more than prepare them for the gritty reality of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
“These few games against Belgium and Germany are going to prepare the whole team,” US defender Omar Gonzalez explained. “Going up against quality players – Belgium has a lot of talented players that are playing in huge leagues – it’ll be a great test for us and enable us to work on things we need to do to get better in preparation for Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica. So this is a good two games to get that right.”
Wednesday will also provide an opportunity for new players to catch head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s attention, much like forward Herculez Gomez did in last year’s summer camp, which featured three friendly matches and the team’s first two matches of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
“My first camp with Jurgen was last year and it was the exact same thing – five games total, a few friendlies, a few qualifiers,” Gomez recalled. “And that’s where we received opportunities to cement our spots as candidates for the national team. I think it’s an important thing for everybody. There’s a lot to build on, a lot to work on and definitely games to be won.”