RailHawks coach says US has favorable draw vs. Belgium

nmccaskill@newsobserver.comJune 30, 2014 

Brazil Soccer WCup US

United States' Jozy Altidore, left, and Fabian Johnson work out during a training session in Salvador, Brazil, Monday, June 30, 2014. The U.S. will play against Belgium on July 1, in the second round of the 2014 soccer World Cup.

JULIO CORTEZ — AP

The U.S. will play Belgium at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the round of 16 after a tiebreaker with Portugal advanced the U.S. out of pool play and on to the elimination round.

A win will pit the U.S. against the winner between Argentina and Switzerland. Carolina RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said the U.S. got a favorable draw against Belgium, a team he said the U.S. can beat.

Clarke, who scored a goal for Northern Ireland in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, talked with staff writer Nolan McCaskill about the United States-Belgium matchup.

Q: How might the U.S. team’s approach differ as it transitions from pool play to the single-elimination tournament?

A: Right now it’s win or go home. I think Belgium is a very favorable draw. I think it’s a team that they can give problems to and they can beat. Ultimately, they gotta go out and play without any fear and look to win the game.

Q: Jozy Altidore was cleared to dress for Tuesday’s match. If he’s healthy enough to be a factor, what does he add to the U.S. team?

A: He’ll be big-time if he’s able to play. Probably wouldn’t start but may be able to come off the bench, if needed. Hopefully that won’t be the case. He’s a big, strong forward who can hold the ball up in the system, and he scores goals. It’d be good to have him back, and I think just initially for everybody to see him back and dressed and healthy would really add a big push to the team.

Q: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann reportedly told his players to book their families’ return trip for after the World Cup final because they’ll be there to the very end. When your coach is showing that much confidence publicly, how does that impact the players?

A: It’s a big change from what he said going into the World Cup, so that’s a positive. It’s the way you gotta look at it right now. They’re down to those last few games. Anything can happen. They’ve certainly shown a lot of confidence. They’ve had some great results, great performances and, you know, they’ve got to go out and play without any fear and play with confidence and go out and look to win the game. It’s been a great World Cup so far. It’d be great if they could keep it going for another few games.

Q: Belgium swept its group in pool play with wins over Algeria, Russia and Korea Republic, and only allowed one goal in three games, and that was off a penalty kick. How can the U.S. beat such a dominant defensive team?

A: I think Belgium has sort of been everybody’s dark horse. They’re playing well but they haven’t been great. They have a couple of question marks themselves regarding injuries to key players. But whatever happens, they’re a team that has done very, very well over the last few years.

The U.S. just gotta go out and play their game, and now is the time for some of those players to step up who haven’t had a great World Cup. Great opportunity for everybody.

Q: The three U.S. World Cup games averaged 18 million viewers. The game against Portugal was the most watched soccer game in American history, and, outside of Brazil, the most World Cup tickets have been purchased in America. How much does fan support really impact a team and how far can it drive the U.S.?

A: It’s big time. We know that from personal experience here. That’s gonna drive them on. That’s gonna give them a lot of confidence. When it comes down to those dying minutes and the game is still in the balance late on, the crowd can really push them on to victory. It’s a big advantage for Brazil to be playing at home, but it’s a big advantage for the U.S., too. They’re gonna be playing in front of a crowd that’s very much supporting their run.

McCaskill: 919-829-4567

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