U.S. forward Jozy Altidore, who injured his left hamstring against Ghana, has been cleared to play against Belgium. | Getty Images
Updated: July 1, 2014 2:25PM
Though they lost 1-0 against Germany, the United States did what few thought possible by making it out of the Group of Death in Brazil. The two teams that advanced from Group G likely were going to have an easier game in the round of 16, and that’s the case Tuesday against Belgium.
That’s not to disparage the Belgians, either. They advanced from their group with a perfect record, albeit against easier opponents. They also did it with some young guys playing in their first World Cup.
What they lack in international experience, they make up for in talent. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku (who played on loan with Everton in 2013-14), Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany should strike some fear into the hearts of U.S. fans.
Fellaini and Kompany are dealing with injuries, and Belgium’s starting right back, Anthony Vanden Borre, is out for the rest of the tournament with a broken fibula.
Those possible absences could be a boost for coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, especially with forward Jozy Altidore cleared to play after suffering a hamstring injury in the first game against Ghana.
If Altidore is healthy enough to play, Klinsmann must use him prudently.
There’s a potential for reinjury, so starting him, even though there’s a decent chance he’ll have to be subbed, might be a safer option than bringing him on and potentially having to use another sub should he get hurt.
The United States also has advanced this far with only 20 minutes from Altidore, so it might be wise to sit him and hope the team advances to give him a better shot to return for a potential quarterfinal date with the Argentina/Switzerland winner.
The United States wasn’t expected to do much in this tournament, so even if it doesn’t beat Belgium, its overall performance should be considered a success. People continue to show a greater interest in the game, there’s a groundswell of media coverage and, all the while, Klinsmann’s handling of the group has been very good.
But there’s no time like now. The Americans are good enough to beat anyone on their day and are fully capable of making another statement to the world in this knockout game.
Brian Bliss is the technical director for the Fire. A former U.S. international who played in the 1990 World Cup, Bliss also serves as an assistant coach for the U.S. under-20 national team.