CLEVELAND – The United States may have suffered an unpleasant wake-up call at the hands of Belgium in their 4-2 thrashing on Wednesday evening, but make no mistake: These are exactly the kinds of teams they want to play.
“We want to play teams like Belgium, like Germany, like Russia or Italy, because there’s so much you can read from those games, there’s so much you can see and obviously you want to win them,” US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters at his postgame press conference. “When you lose them it’s not such a big pleasure, but I’d rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador for the 100th time, because that’s where you learn.”
DaMarcus Beasley, easily the veteran of the team, earned his 100th cap for the US during the game then echoed his coach’s sentiment after it.
“It’s only going to make us better as a team,” the 30-year-old, who featured again on the left side of defense, explained. “When you play El Salvador 20 times a year, you play Mexico 20 times a year, it’s not going to get you better.
“When you play against Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, those types of teams that are some of the best in the world, you gain experience from that. We enjoy playing those types of games.”
In the loss, a relatively inexperienced US defense saw itself picked apart by a Belgium team featuring an array of English Premier League stars, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne (who scored 10 goals this season in the Bundesliga for Werder Bremen, on loan from Chelsea) exploiting nearly every mistake they could.
“What players like Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler in defense, young players that are coming through, that’s what they see,” Klinsmann added. “They see top class players against them, proven players that have qualities, and that’s why they play for big clubs.”
Gonzalez, who put in a 90-minute shift on the backline in his seventh cap for the US, had a glaring mistake that led to Benteke’s first goal, Belgium’s second. Gonzalez beat his man to a through ball, only for his heavy touch to carry the ball straight to De Bruyne. That left the Belgian with an easy cross to find Benteke for the tap-in.
“I thought there were times where we looked good and times where mistakes cost us goals, like my one mistake where I take the touch maybe a little bit too far, but that’s not going to deter me from taking that touch again,” Gonzalez reflected.
Klinsmann, however, pointed out that simply being on the field against Belgium and having made that mistake could ultimately be a positive thing for Gonzalez and the other young players on his team.
“I think that when you go through a game like that – and the players know it even better – the experience right there on the field with players like Fellaini and Benteke and [Vincent] Kompany, who is one of the best defenders in the world right now, they see in themselves, ‘What am I missing compared to those players? How can I close the gap to those players?’” the coach, a World Cup winner as a player, explained.
So the question posed on Wednesday is this: as a player, is that gap inspiring or frightening?
“It’s definitely inspiring,” Gonzalez said. “Now you see that there’s a lot more work to do and for me it’s definitely exciting because I know there’s another step to take and I’m excited to keep on getting better and just play better each game. I’m looking forward to playing more quality players like this.”
Gonzalez and company will certainly get another chance to do just that – with a match against Klinsmann’s native Germany looming on Sunday, they will not only get a shot at redemption, but another chance to learn from some of the best in the world.