CLEVELAND -- When the U.S. men’s national soccer team took the field for Wednesday’s international friendly against Belgium, 27,720 fans -- mostly wearing the red, white and blue -- were on hand at FirstEnergy Stadium for the Americans’ second-to-last tune-up before the second round of World Cup qualifying.
With Wednesday’s game, a 4-2 loss to Belgium, Team U.S.A. has now played two games in Cleveland, the first of which was a 2-0 win over Venezuela ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
“I think the experience was wonderful,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said of playing in Cleveland. “The support was wonderful, absolutely. It was a great crowd. They were behind us, even when we were down 4-1. That was really nice. It was really positive, and I’m glad that we came here.”
U.S. captain Clint Dempsey felt it was a good time to play in Cleveland to get those who have been playing overseas used to the weather conditions in the United States, where the Americans will play two of their next three World Cup qualifiers, June 11 against Panama in Seattle, and June 14 against Honduras in Sandy, Utah.
“For some guys from Europe, it was a chance to get used to these conditions again, playing with the heat and humidity,” Dempsey said. “It’s been raining leading up to this game. The most important thing is the qualifying games is making sure we play against the best competition possible, so that when we play in those games, we’ll be ready for whatever’s thrown at us.”
Despite the Belgians leading for most of the game, chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” could be heard throughout the stadium. The support and chants from the fans motivated Team U.S.A., who scored a late goal on Dempsey’s penalty kick following a hand ball violation in the box against Belgium.
“It’s always good when you can hear the crowd while you’re playing, and sometimes, you’re so focused, you don’t hear anything at all except for your teammates,” said defender Omar Gonzalez. “Today, I definitely heard the crowd, and it was definitely good stuff.
“I thought it was great. The crowd was pretty lively. They were starting chants here and there, so that was pretty good. It was definitely fun to play here in Cleveland.”