For the opening 30 minutes of their friendly match against Costa Rica on Friday, the United States looked like a solid team that was working towards something. It was obvious that, through Jurgan Klinsmann's ideas or some other means, the team looked more fluid and had a different idea of how to play. They kept their passes short and they kept the ball well. While this was partially the result of Costa Rica giving them too much space, the play was encouraging.
At some point around the half hour mark, things began to go downhill a bit and the team looked a little less sharp. After halftime, Costa Rica - a half strength Ticos side - was the demonstrably better team. They deserved their goal, and based on their superiority in the second half, they probably deserved their win.
Of course, the objective in international friendlies is never to win the match above all else. Implementing new ideas and coming closer to playing as a team is much more important. So is seeing what you do or do not have in certain players. While Klinsmann probably got some useful information out of that game, I'm not sure we learned anything.
The vast majority of hardcore USMNT fans already knew that Edgar Castillo, Robbie Rogers and Michael Orozco Fiscal are decent players, but not good enough for this level. They already knew that Jozy Altidore is ineffective as a lone striker. They already knew that Brek Shea and Timothy Chandler are promising young players with athleticism coming out of their ears.
There's good news, though. It was only Jurgen Klinsmann's second game in charge, and things could change a lot between now and the United States' first competitive international fixture under his reign. That's another piece of good news, that World Cup qualification doesn't start until next summer. If the United States gets out of their first stage - which a USA B team should be able to do - there's still more time until the dreaded Hexagonal starts. Klinsmann has plenty of time to learn on the job and mold his team.
However, while Friday was not a disaster, it was not encouraging. We didn't learn anything about any up and coming talents, the team lost to inferior opposition, and Klinsmann was almost certainly out-coached when it came to halftime adjustments. It was just a friendly, but it was a bad friendly. No one's even close to pushing the panic button yet, but it got a few people thinking "Hmm...I'm not so sure about this guy."
Against Belgium, Klinsmann and co. can erase any doubts that anyone has. Yes, they were disappointing in their draw against Azerbaijan on Friday, but a quick look at the roster tells you all you need to know. Belgium have more raw talent than the United States across the board. Every single one of their players has played regularly for a team in contention for a UEFA Champions League or Europa League spot in the last year. Only veteran Timmy Simons is on the wrong side of 30. Putting in a good performance against this team, on the road, would be extremely impressive.
This is exactly the type of game that the United States should be playing at this time. Belgium is young and talented enough to beat the USMNT on a neutral site, but they aren't so good that Klinsmann's youngsters are going to be completely out of their depth, and therefore, learn nothing. This is a serious challenge, but a challenge that is not impossible to overcome. The United States need to rise to that challenge and prove that they're not a team that is stagnating or regressing, as recent friendlies and the Gold Cup suggest.