CLEVELAND -- Belgium is a rising power on the international soccer scene. Germany, even without its starting core, is a daunting for any opponent.
The odds are stacked against the United States for its upcoming exhibition matches to be played in Cleveland and D.C., but that's the way head coach Jurgen Klinsmann prefers it.
“Facing Belgium at this stage allows us to get a couple answers in terms of where the players are at right now," Klinsmann said prior to Wednesday's match against Belgium
While some have suggested that the U.S. should face easier opponents ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers in June, Klinsmann insists that he didn't want to create a sense of false confidence. Going up against some of the top European sides allows Klinsmann and his coaching staff to assess the current roster.
However, Klinsmann is facing a fair share of personnel challenges.
The American roster is depleted as several players just finished their club seasons this past week. The Red, White and Blue will be without their midfield stalwart Michael Bradley while starting forward Jozy Altidore is questionable for the match.
Klinsmann is turning to Sacha Kljestan, a two-time Belgian champion with Anderlecht, to fill the void left by Bradley in central midfield. Kljestan hasn't always been rated highly by Klinsmann. After being snubbed during a few national team call-ups during the former Germany boss' first year in charge, Kljestan admitted to Goal last summer that he wasn't sure what he had to do to get back with the Stars and Stripes.
"It's a bit disappointing because I thought I had a really good season and I thought I could help the national team. Obviously, he doesn't see it that way," Kljestan said last July.
Klinsmann admitted that Kljestan is a player who has grown on him over the past few months and that has resulted in the 26-year-old getting more call-ups and getting spot duty in games.
“There’s a reason Sacha is here - he won the Belgian title again,” Klinsmann explained. “He has had to swallow a couple of pills over the last two years. He’s here because not getting as many [USMNT] games as he’s hoped to get, but [he] deserves to be part of this strong group."
The coach added: “It’s a big compliment to him for how he performed all year for Anderlecht and how he comes in here and shows his qualities to the entire group.”
Kljestan normally plays in central and defensive midfield for his club but has been used as a utility player with the U.S., often playing out wide. He admitted that he was excited to have an opportunity to show what he could do in his natural position with Bradley out.
“I’ll play whatever position is asked of me, but I’m also excited to play in the center of midfield,” Kljestan stated. “I’m fortunate that Michael’s not here for the game, so now I get a chance to play in the center. And if it so happens that Michael or Jermaine [Jones] pick up a suspension during qualifying, I want to step in and prove to the coaches that I’m able to do a job and help the team in the middle of midfield as well.”
Klinsmann will also face a dilemma with his flank defense positions.
Fabian Johnson just finished his season on Monday after helping Hoffenheim stay in the Bundesliga in a playoff against Kaiserslaten and his backup, Edgar Castillo, is also locked into his season with Liga MX side Tijuana. That means that the DeMarcus Beasley experiment at left back will continue.
Beasley will receive his milestone 100th cap if he plays against Belgium. Klinsmann praised Beasley's attitude, pointing to the veteran's determination and willingness to do whatever it takes to get on the pitch.
"He deserves his 100th cap," Klinsmann said enthusiastically. "His character and commitment to this program have been excellent."
In addition, both of Klinsmann's right backs, Timmy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo, are out. Klinsmann revealed that Cherundolo requested time off as he's still not 100 percent and Chandler is out with a knee injury that he suffered while training with FC Nuremberg. Klinsmann admitted that he is looking to right defensive combinations heading into June.
“At right back, we always try to make the best out of it,” Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann and his staff will have their work cut out over the next few weeks.
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