The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been one of the most exciting tournaments in recent memory.
Every game has provided drama and the support that the United States fans have shown for the U.S. Men's National Team has been incredible, much different than when I played in 1990. The crowds at Kansas City’s Power and Light District have been amazing, as the city supports the team — and especially Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.
With regard to the performance of the USMNT, I’ve been very impressed with the squad so far. Each game, they have gotten stronger and stronger. The Ghana victory was extremely important because it not only gave our team an early confidence boost, but it gave us three points off the bat so we didn't need to chase points.
Our second game against Portugal was the best — tactically — we have looked so far. The team looked fresh, countered really well and found themselves in very good moments. The only problem was that we lacked the management of the game, which cost us two points.
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Now, everything changes, and I believe for the better. Our team is much more suited for the knockout stage because of our mentality. We are a go-for-it country and go after the win. We do not have the soccer sophistication to go out and play for a tie.
With that said, here are my three keys to success for the United States on Tuesday against Belgium:
1. Be tactically sound
Belgium is one of the most tactically sound teams in the World Cup. They have some very dangerous players that we have to be aware of at all times. However, I also feel Belgium is a team that we match up very well against. When it comes to some of the African teams in the past, we have not been able to keep up with them, and we get stretched as the game gets more open. Against Belgium, we can take a better tactical approach.
2. Don't sit back
For this, we have to learn from the Germany match. We can’t sit too deep or else we won’t possess the ball enough and we won’t get many opportunities on goal. If Jozy Altidore is available, that will help us push the game with his ability to hold the ball up top.
3. Set pieces
As with almost every game you play, set pieces are critical. Belgium is a team that is very dangerous off set pieces and they have some big bodies that can cause us trouble. We have been pretty good in those areas so far, but with the knockout stages upon us, we have to be even stronger when it comes to set pieces. It's the little details that matter going into these matches and we have to be aware and alert at all times.
At the end of the day, our team needs to not only play smart, but to be smart. The players cannot lose their heads in these games. There are a lot of emotions on the field and it’s not just the players, it’s the referees as well.
Now that we are in the knockout round, the pressure is even higher and no one can take a play off. I believe if we play smart, keep our head and play a strong game tactically, we can defeat Belgium and advance to the next round of the tournament.