If We Were Jürgen… Our Preferred XI for a Pancakes vs. Waffles Battle for the Ages

It still doesn’t feel entirely real. I mean, it’s like four hours away and we’ve known about it for a few days now, but still. Even though we thought it could happen, believed it should, hell, knew it would, the fact that the United States will stare down Belgium in the Round of 16 at the World Cup is incredible to fathom. The workday ends at 4 pm today, America. It’s time to crush some Belgians. Pancakes are better anyway.

Jurgen Klinsmann
Jurgen Klinsmann may have achieved success by making it out of the group, but he’s not ready to call it quits yet (Photo Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

No matter the path or how you thought it would go, here we are. Jurgen Klinsmann’s boys have really and truly become America’s and sit on the cusp of something truly special. I hate debates about the future of soccer in this country and loath hyperbole more (just kidding, I love hyperbole), but this is likely the most important game in modern American soccer history. If we win, then the next one becomes exponentially more important. Not that I needed to feel any more nervous about this game. Gulp.

Belgium are a great collection of talent, through their group on a weak nine points but nine points none the less. On paper or in FIFA they should walk over the United States, but they don’t always play up to their potential while the Americans often maximize theirs. Eden Hazard, meet Kyle Beckerman. You might not win that battle as easy as you think.

To win this game, Klinsmann will have to allow his players to bring their best tactically — they shouldn’t need any more motivation. He most certainly will, but that won’t stop us from prognosticating our own lineups and tactics, will it? Of course not.

Goalkeeper

Dan Popko: I bet Tim Howard really hates waffles.

Steve Fogarty: I’m running out of smart-ass comments, but Tim Howard is still the keeper.

Defenders

Fogarty: Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley are all locked into starting spots in this match. That leaves Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron fighting for one final spot. Cameron was a pariah after his two miscues against Portugal lead to goals. Gonzalez made a similar mistake on a clearance against Germany that went unpunished. Following that moment, he proceeded to play the game of life. Against my better judgment, I’m starting Gonzalez. This was done primarily to neutralize Belgium’s crosses into the box, and because I’m nervous about where Cameron’s head is at right now..

Popko: Ugh, the Cameron/Gonzalez debate. I’ve had it mentally for the past few days and discussed it with Paul Deedy on the podcast. After all that, I’ve finally come to the same conclusion: Gonzalez. He’s made mistakes before, but so has Cameron and Gonzo’s physical ability to deal with whatever Belgium throws his way is why he really should be the best defender on this team. Let’s hope he proves us all right. Around him, everything stays the course.

Defensive Midfield

Popko: This is the first sport formation enters into the equation, though I find it hard to believe Klinsmann steps away from the 4-2-3-1. I would consider it in return for another attacking option against some teams, but Jermaine Jones has done great bombing forward from here himself and the United States can’t afford to give Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne time on the ball to make things happen. For that reason it’ll be Jones and Kyle Beckerman, with the latter likely over more on the right side of the defensive shape to deal more aggressively with Hazard.

Fogarty: Beckerman has been very good so far in the World Cup. He continues to play off the back four against Belgium. One of the main concerns against Germany was how often the Germans attacked DaMarcus Beasley. Jones deployed on the left-hand side of the defensive midfield should help ease pressure on Beasley. Despite Michael Bradley’s struggles as the attacking midfielder, I am still not ready to move him out of that role.

Michael Bradley
Michael Bradley has had a tough World Cup, but his work rate has stayed at impeccable highs (Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Attacking Midfield

Fogarty: Bradley returns to the attacking midfield. He hasn’t been his best lately, and hopefully has a chance to redeem himself against Belgium. I am starting Alejandro Bedoya as the right midfielder. He will have more offensive responsibility than some of his midfield counterparts. He’s also been a great defender, who’s left everything on the field. I’ll put Graham Zusi on the left, where he did so well covering Beasley after switching with Brad Davis against Germany.

Popko: I know I’ve said some version of it before, but as rare as it is for Michael Bradley to have three bad games, it is even rarer for him to have four. With some non-Manaus rest time, look for him to finally make the central attacking position his own and take it right to the Belgians all game. On his flanks I think Bedoya is reinserted into the lineup on the left-hand side — Brad Davis didn’t do nearly enough for me against Germany — while Zusi maintains his spot on the right. I debated a DeAndre Yedlin appearance, but his speed against tired legs (and four centerbacks!) late in the game is just too valuable and he is still just too inconsistent to get the start.

Forward

Popko: Say what you will about Jozy Altidore’s race to fitness ahead of this game, but no matter how quick his progress is a starting appearance in this game is highly doubtful. I’d say 30 minutes off the bench, absolute maximum. In that case, it becomes and issue of Clint Dempsey alone, or with a partner. Since my lineup has moved in the direction of getting as many bodies in the path of Belgium’s attack as possible, that leaves Clint Dempsey up on an island together.

Fogarty: I agree 100% on Altidore. The worst-case scenario for Klinsmann is starting Altidore and having to remove him after 10 minutes a la Atlético Madrid with Diego Costa in the Champions League Final. Dempsey starts off as the lone striker, although there are intriguing options that can join him off the bench.

Dan Popko’s Starting XI

——————— Howard ———————

Johnson — Gonzalez — Besler — Beasley

———– Beckerman —– Jones ————

Zusi ————- Bradley ————- Bedoya

——————— Dempsey ——————–

Steve Fogarty’s Starting XI

——————— Howard ———————

Johnson — Gonzalez — Besler — Beasley

———– Beckerman —– Jones ————

Bedoya ————- Bradley ————- Zusi

——————— Dempsey ——————–

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