What's on tap: Argentina vs. Switzerland, noon, ESPN; Belgium vs. United States, 4 p.m., ESPN.
What you’ll see: In short, you’ll see a lot of white-knuckle Americans. People like me who, despite my momentary lapse in confidence after Portugal, have been beating the U.S. drum for well over a year want so desperately to be proven right and have this team join soccer’s elite. Getting through a group including Germany, Portugal, and Ghana was a good step towards that. This last-16 matchup with the Belgians is a perfect opportunity to solidify it.
I wrote after the Germany match that the U.S. needed to stay in that high gear it has shown on occasion for an entire match to compete at this level, and that will come down to Michael Bradley, who hasn’t performed as badly as Twitter might indicate but has still been disappointing. I think a formation change, back to one with two strikers, could help him a ton. I doubt Jozy Altidore can play the full 90 minutes on his return from a hamstring injury — and I’d be glad to be wrong. But even if it’s Aron Johannsson alongside Clint Dempsey, I think another forward to be the link-up man between the midfield and striker would do well for Bradley and allow him to focus on other things.
Defensively, the United States will have to cope with a Belgian attack that centers on Chelsea star Eden Hazard. Like the U.S., Belgium hasn’t put forward a complete perforance in the tournament, with three late winners turning tense matches into victories in an easy Group G. There’s talent all over the field, but as a Spurs fan on the club side, I can say that some of the players (Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli) are more style than substance. The loss of Christian Benteke — who is basically a better version of Altidore — has hurt Belgium, and put Romelu Lukaku in the role of Clint Dempsey in that he’s had to shoulder a ton of the attacking responsibility.
Regardless of opponent, the U.S. needs a lot more of its performance against Portugal this afternoon than the one against Germany. The more deserving team doesn’t always go through, and I’m not one for moral victories, but this will be the most high-profile soccer event in our nation’s history and a poor performance will almost be more disappointing than a victory.
Argenita against Switzerland will be a good appetizer. Both teams have shown an ability to score goals and not a ton of interest in defending against them, so I’ll watch the first bit of the match and root for whomever I’d like the U.S. to face in the quarterfinal.
Headlined by Barcelona sensation Neymar and a who's-who of top players from around the world, the hosts carry the weight of an expectant nation into the group stage. In last summer's Confederation's Cup, which featured the champions of every continental tournament, Brazil rode that support to a 3-0 win in the final over Spain. That game was revelatory in that the big-bodied Brazilian midfielders overpowered the diminutive Spanish side. No side will be under more pressure than Brazil, but with a prolific strike force that also includes Zenit star Hulk and attacking options in the midfield, they could easily fire their way out of the group.