Klinsmann: U.S will be 'tested' in friendly with Belgium
CLEVELAND (AP) -- U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann isn't exactly sure what type of team he's got at the moment.
He's about to get a much better idea.
To prepare for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras, the Americans will play an international friendly on Wednesday night against Belgium, a young, talented team - ranked 15th in the FIFA standings - that will challenge the U.S. squad all over the field.
"They have top-class players,'' Klinsmann said. "And they will have a team that will give us a tough test - and that's what we need.''
With games this week against Belgium and Germany on Sunday in Washington D.C., Klinsmann is hoping to get his squad up to speed for the June 7 match in Kingston against Jamaica, which beat the U.S. last year.
"We need to ready for Jamaica,'' Klinsmann said, "and we will be ready for Jamaica.''
On Tuesday, the U.S. team held a practice open to the public at FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the NFL's Cleveland Browns. As the Americans went through some drills and scrimmaged, a few Browns players including quarterback Brandon Weeden, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and wide receiver Greg Little watched with interest from the sideline as the U.S. team dribbled, headed balls and worked on some set pieces.
Afterward, both sets of players posed for photos and shared stories.
One of Klinsmann's biggest challenges is readying a team missing some key components. Midfielder Michael Bradley will not join the team until later this week after just completing his club season in Italy. Also, Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo remain with their Mexican club team and Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson are doing the same in Germany.
However, Klinsmann can't worry about which players aren't present and must get the group he has to gel quickly.
"Facing Belgium at this stage allows us to get a couple answers in terms of where the players are at right now,'' he said. "We still have the challenge in the next couple of days to get everybody on the same page because they come from different schedules.''
Klinsmann is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to his game-day lineup, but he revealed during his news conference that midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Jermaine Jones will both start against Belgium.
Klinsmann identified Kljestan as a player who needs to step up his game and play well against Belgium and Germany to earn additional playing time in the future.
"There's a reason Sacha is here - he won the Belgian title again,'' Klinsmann said of Kljestan, who plays for Anderlecht. "He has had to swallow a couple of pills over the last two years. He's here because not getting as many games as he's hoped to get, but deserves to be part of this strong group.
"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.''
Like his coach, U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said building cohesion in a short amount of time is difficult, yet essential.
"Every team has to deal with that,'' the forward said. "You have to work on as much as you can in training. The good news is we have two games leading into the World Cup qualifiers. That's the most important thing, that we hit the ground running in those games.''
Dempsey said Belgium and Germany provide the perfect barometers for the U.S. to gauge how ready they are - or aren't.
"They're great tests,'' he said. "Belgium is leading its group in World Cup qualifying and they have a lot of young, up-and coming talent playing on some of the best teams in the world. Germany, depending on what roster they bring, they have a lot of quality. They showed there's a lot of strength with their two teams being in the Champions League final. Both of those games are going to be tough, but it puts us in a good position so that in qualifying we'll be ready for whatever.''
Klinsmann kept a close eye on his players during Tuesday's workout. He has upcoming decisions to make and he's using every opportunity on the field to assess a roster that will continue to evolve in the months leading into next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Klinsmann understands that it may be difficult for some players to adjust and refocus after just completing their seasons overseas or leaving their MLS clubs to play for their home country.
"It's more a mental challenge than a physical one,'' he said. "Getting them on the same page, wherever they come from, it's not easy sometimes. It's really a challenge for them. Some deal better with it, some may be a little shaky.
"It's a puzzle that we're always working on.''