The U.S. men's national team's 4-2 loss to Belgium showed a number of things. For starters, Belgium, even without Eden Hazard, is a world-class side. It didn't take a one-sided showing in Cleveland to prove that, though. Wednesday's loss said more about the state of the U.S. defense, which remains a work in progress. Granted, not all of the top-choice players were at Jürgen Klinsmann's disposal, but as a pre-qualifier test, the U.S. did not turn in a passing grade. It won't get any easier Sunday, when Germany, despite its Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund contingent largely not making trip, awaits at RFK Stadium.
Keeping in mind that the likes of Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler were not available (and Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo were not called in), the U.S. struggled mightily, first in absorbing Belgium's pressure, then in defending some routine plays. The U.S. was able to balance out the run of play in the latter stages of the first half, turned in a well-worked set piece to score an equalizer and made good on a fortuitous penalty call late in the game, but there was little else from a playing standpoint to take away from the outing at FirstEnergy Stadium. Above all else, it was a landmark night for DaMarcus Beasley and Stuart Holden, and ultimately, that is the good the encounter can provide going forward. Here are player ratings from the match (as always, on a scale of 0-10):
GK, Tim Howard, 6-- Howard was not helped by his defenders, to say the least, and he had to scramble to try to beat Romelu Lukaku to a through ball into his box. He was first to the ball, but his inability to handle it cleanly gave Everton teammate Kevin Mirallas an open net in which to lob the free ball, which he did with accuracy. Howard denied Lukaku on a similar opportunity cleanly and was taken off at halftime. Don't read into that at all, though, as that was more about getting Brad Guzan minutes than anything else. Howard is the entrenched No. 1.
D, Geoff Cameron, 4.5 -- First the good: Cameron's first international goal. The Stoke City defender might have gotten away with a minor push-off, but Cameron was perfectly stationed to head home Clint Dempsey's squared header and level the score midway through the first half. From a defensive standpoint, though, Cameron had a forgettable evening. He was at partial fault for ball watching on Belgium's goal first goal, failing to pounce on the ball Howard slid to. He was also caught forward in the attack, allowing Belgium to counter with his space vacated, and never truly looked settled against a top opponent.
D, Omar Gonzalez, 3 -- The inconsistencies that come along with growing pains manifested themselves for Gonzalez on a night when the L.A. Galaxy anchor was matched up against world-class opposition. On Belgium's first goal, Gonzalez let Lukaku roam between him and Clarence Goodson into a gaping hole, and then he was too slow to react when Howard parried the ball away. On Belgium's second goal, Gonzalez ran onto a pass into the U.S. box, but instead of clearing cleanly, his touch handed the ball right to Kevin De Bruyne, who squared to Christian Benteke for an easy goal. For every Costa Rica and Mexico game that Gonzalez has, there is a Honduras or Belgium one. The hope for Klinsmann is that the latter showings become less and less frequent.
D, Clarence Goodson, 3.5 -- Like Gonzalez, Goodson was completely overmatched against Lukaku and Benteke. He was unable to handle Lukaku on in one-on-one matchups (although there's a growing center-back support club for that), but the positioning to allow the Chelsea forward to streak into space between him and Gonzalez on the first goal was inexplicable. Given the chance to start over Matt Besler, Goodson, who did pass well out of the back, did not leave the most positive of impressions, and he was subbed off in favor of the Sporting Kansas City central defender for the final 21 minutes.
D, DaMarcus Beasley, 5 -- Beasley became the 13th player in U.S. soccer history to reach 100 caps, and he ought to be commended for that. The longevity he has been able to sustain to his U.S. career, which has been hit with injuries and dips in form, is outstanding and a statement to all that one is never really out of the picture permanently. That said, Wednesday wasn't his greatest night. He was perhaps a bit unfortunate not to be guilty of a handball in the box in the first half, and he had a whale of a time trying to keep up with the likes of Lukaku and Benteke. He lost the latter on Belgium's final goal, though in between he did offer sound moments of 1-on-1 defending and got forward capably when he could.
M, Graham Zusi, 5 -- The Sporting Kansas City star began his night looking extremely sharp, combining with Clint Dempsey on the right. It was his service off the short-corner play that Dempsey lofted for Cameron to head home, and his tracking back -- especially early -- helped combat Belgium's attempt at sending numbers forward. Like the rest of the U.S. team, his night waned in the second half, when Belgium reasserted itself, and he was taken off in the 69th minute. Did not really hurt his stock in any way.
M, Jermaine Jones, 6 -- Jones had one of the toughest challenges of the night in trying to halt Belgium's high-octane attack, in which the visitors constantly sent numbers forward in attempts to overwhelm the Americans. Jones held his own and covered a ton of ground. Even though he was sometimes erratic in his long-range passing, he turned in a passing grade against a very tough opponent. Jones capped his night with a needless challenge from behind that netted him a yellow card, something that remains an issue when considering his place in a competition where he is a suspension liability.
M, Sacha Kljestan, 4.5 -- Kljestan did not fare so well in his chance to crack the starting lineup, with his decision making and execution of passes leaving plenty to be desired. Given that Kljestan and Jones have never been partnered from the start for a match and had little time to train together, perhaps Kljestan deserves the benefit of the doubt, but there are no consolation prizes when trying to earn more minutes in an already-crowded midfield.
M, Brad Davis, 4 -- Like Zusi, Davis' night started off strong and then tailed off, though his disappearance was a bit more pronounced. He peppered balls in from the left in the early stages, providing the width that has been so sorely missing, and he was active in trying to create for the forwards. His turnover led to Belgium's eventual game-winning goal, though (even though Gonzalez should have dealt with the play better), and he was eventually taken off in the 63rd minute for the USA's second substitution.
F, Clint Dempsey, 5.5 -- Named captain of the national team going forward by Klinsmann, Dempsey was involved with both U.S. goals. He assisted on Cameron's tally by latching onto Zusi's service and lobbing a header across the goal to the center back, who leveled the score. He also confidently struck from the penalty spot, which is encouraging considering his history on PKs (though one could argue it was a gift of a penalty granted to the U.S.). Dempsey was clearly a priority among Belgium defenders and was relatively anonymous in the second half, a glaring reminder that the U.S. needs somebody else to take the load off his shoulders and attract attention.
F, Jozy Altidore, 3.5 -- This was billed as a golden chance for Altidore to break his drought. Klinsmann inserted two wingers to provide him service, and he started to see the returns on that with Zusi, Dempsey and Davis sending balls into the area in the early going. Altidore could not make good on his best chance, when Dempsey played a ball to him at the edge of the six-yard box, and his being taken off at halftime raised some serious eyebrows. If friendlies are chances to get ineffective players going with a bit more leeway, why not give Altidore more time in the second half instead of limiting his opportunity? Unless it had previously been established that he was only playing a half, that's a telling substitution.
GK, Brad Guzan, 4.5 -- Guzan may have beaten Christian Benteke for Aston Villa's Player of the Year honors, but he was beaten twice by his club teammate after coming on in the second half. Of the three goals Guzan conceded, he could have only really done something about the second, when Kevin De Bruyne's cross sailed over his six-yard box to Marouane Fellaini's waiting head. Guzan is used to playing behind shaky defenses after his season at Villa, and the U.S. back four did their finest Villa impression Wednesday.
D, Matt Besler, 4.5 -- That Besler didn't start next to Gonzalez was a mild surprise considering how they fared together against Mexico, and he did not cover himself with glory after coming on for the final 21 minutes. Although he passed well out of the back, Besler gambled on a ball intended for Benteke and then was somewhat fortunate not to concede a penalty on his recovery tackle.
M, Stuart Holden, 6 -- Holden made a triumphant return to the national team for the first time since Oct. 2010, looking comfortable and not tentative at all after coming on for the final 10 minutes. He was accurate in his passing, looked like he belonged and provided one of two positive takeaways -- Beasley's 100th cap being the other -- on an otherwise forgettable night.
M, Brad Evans, 4.5 -- Evans came on for Zusi and had little impact, though he was almost able to redirect Eddie Johnson's wayward shot in for the USA's third tally before crashing into the signage behind the goal and staying down momentarily. His night was compounded by the fact that his Seattle Sounders were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament in which they have traditionally excelled.
F, Terrence Boyd, 4.5 -- Boyd's inability to come up with a definitive clearance on a cross led to Belgium's third goal, and in the attack he either could not be found or was not quite in the right position to make a goal-scoring touch. After a 17-goal season at Rapid Vienna, more will be expected of Boyd on the international stage, and he wasn't able to bring it in his 27 minutes.
F, Eddie Johnson, 5.5 -- Johnson added energy up top in replacing Altidore at halftime, but his most vital contributions came when he was stationed out wide, following Boyd's inclusion in the game. Johnson went at defenders, won a (dubious) penalty with a cross he sent into the box and had a chance to set up or score the USA's third but hit his opportunity off target.