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updated: 6/30/2014 7:35 PM

New 'World' view for U.S. soccer team

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  • United States players Clint Dempsey, middle, and Matt Besler, left, work out during a training session Monday in Salvador, Brazil. The U.S. plays Belgium on Tuesday in the Round of 16.

      United States players Clint Dempsey, middle, and Matt Besler, left, work out during a training session Monday in Salvador, Brazil. The U.S. plays Belgium on Tuesday in the Round of 16.
    Associated Press

 
 

This game is different.

No longer is the United States taking the long view of its World Cup matches. The days of a "good" loss are over.

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Now the United States is in the knockout phase of the tournament. Win or go home.

"The mentality is that if you have the game of your life, it doesn't matter who you're playing, you could win the game," said former national-team star Brian McBride, who grew up in Arlington Heights. "The focus becomes much tighter. The experience you gained through the group stages, you use to your advantage."

"Obviously when you're in group play, you've got a three-game stretch," added Clint Mathis, like McBride a Fire assistant coach and World Cup veteran.

"You can plan it out as much as you want to and it makes it a little easier as far as preparation, using different guys, obviously the card situation. All of that comes into effect."

Each player's character also comes into play. Mathis and McBride know how that goes. Each played on the 2002 U.S. team that reached the quarterfinals, the best World Cup showing for a U.S. men's team.

"Tensions rise a little bit more," Mathis said. "I think you see some guys that fall into their shell. Some guys step up and play great."

Both former players believe the United States matches up well with Belgium, Tuesday's Round of 16 opponent (3 p.m., ESPN).

"Belgium's an extremely good team," said McBride, a former Buffalo Grove High School forward who scored for the U.S. team in the 2002 World Cup. "They're deep. I don't think they've hit their best yet, which is scary for us, but hopefully it just continues for this game.

"But if we're at it and they're not at it, I think we've got a great chance. If they're at it and we're at it, then it comes down to making sure you don't make too many mistakes because Belgium has some world-class players. If they beat you because they show their class in the game, there's not much you can do."

Mathis agrees.

"I definitely think that's a team the U.S. can get past," Mathis added.

If the game is tied at the end of 90 minutes, the teams will play two 15-minute overtime periods. That's when you see who is most mentally and physically prepared.

"Fitness is a huge issue," McBride added. "That's one of the major factors that can take a team that isn't necessarily thought to be one of the best in the world to allow you to nullify a lot of the attributes that those best teams in the world can do."

While Mathis hopes the Americans don't wind up tied at the end of 120 minutes and have to test the "penalty-kick gods," he also believes they're in good shape when Belgium is shooting.

"You've got Tim Howard in goal," Mathis said. "You look at it from the U.S. standpoint and go, 'Hey, is it the worst thing for us? We've got one of the best goalies in the world for us in our net.' "

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter@Orrin_Schwarz.

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