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Van Kerckhoven scores twice as Belgium downs U.S. 2-0. Americans suffer third straight shutout.

BRUSSELS (Wednesday, February 25, 1998) -- The United States was shut out for the third consecutive match, watching Belgiumís Nico Van Kerckhoven score a goal in each half for a 2-0 victory in an international friendly match before 15,894 at Stade Roi Baudouin tonight.

Since beating defending world Cup champion Brazil for the first time ever, 1-0, in the Gold Cup semifinals February 10, the U.S. team has lost to Mexico (1-0), the Netherlands (2-0) and to the Belgians.

"At times we played some outstanding soccer, especially given the (exhausted) physical state of these players," said U.S. coach Steve Sampson. "The quality of our attack has improved dramatically but we also have to improve on our defense. I think we proved that we were as good if not better than the Belgians, especially if we are fully rested."

In the 23d minute, Van Kerckhoven broke loose down Belgium's left flank, chased the ball hard into the goal mouth and tipped it through the legs of American goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

"If I had it all over again I would have held on my line and made the save," said Keller. "I was handcuffed. I was too close to him. He put it down by my feet and I just could not react in time. I got stuck in between two decisions and two wrongs don't make a right."

Said American midfielder Claudio Reyna. "After they scored 1-0 it was like Holland, we tried to push for the tie. The game then opened up. It is difficult when its open against a European team at home, they have confidence, the crowd cheers them on, and they start playing. It makes it difficult."

Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda failed to finish solid scoring opportunities later in the first half. Wynalda, who mistrapped a dangerous ball in the 11th minute, was sprung for a breakaway in the 31st minute, but he drove his shot into keeper Filip de Wildeís shoulder.

"I probably would have dribbled around the goalkeeper if I had it all over again," said Wynalda. "I tried to fake low and hit it high, but I hit him in the shoulder. It was not a save. I hit him."

Then the Belgians took control when Van Kerckhoven scored in the 54th minute, netting the rebound after Luc Nilisí free kick hit the post.

The Belgians continued to pressure and in the 64th minute Manu Karagianni nearly lobbed one over Kellerís head, sending over the crossbar at well.

The Americans' best chance came in the 79th minute when Brian McBride caught a high pass on the chest in the goal mouth yet could not get a shot past keeper Filip de Wilde.

It was the United States' third game against Belgium. It won in 1930 to advance to the World Cup semifinals and lost 1-0 on April 22, 1995, Steve Sampsonís first match as U.S. head coach. The setback left the Americans with a 4-3 record at the end of a seven-game stretch over the past 33 days.

"The time together has not been too long at all," said U.S. midfielder John Harkes. "The time together has not been too long at all. We have to test ourselves like this because we could be together this long come World Cup. It was a lot of games and a lot of travel. It put us under different conditions that we were not used to. We were very fatigued mentally and physically so I think it tested us in the right way.

Belgium 2, United States 0

Lineups: USA - Kasey Keller, Mike Burns, Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa, Jeff Agoos, Ernie Stewart, John Harkes, Claudio Reyna, Cobi Jones (Chris Henderson 64), Roy Lassiter (Preki Radosavljevic 57), Eric Wynalda (Brian McBride 64). Belgium - Filip de Wilde, Eric Deflandre, Lorenzo Staelens, Gordan Vidovic, Philippe Leonard (Vital Borkelmans 69), Franky Van der Elst (Emanuel Karagiannis 55), Marc Wilmots (Johan Walem 46), Lokonda Mpenza (Gert Verheyen, 55), Luc Nilis (Bob Peeters, 84), Danny Boffin, Nico Van Kerckhoven.

Scoring: Belgium - Van Kerckhoven (unassisted) 23; Belgium - Van Kerckhoven (Nilis) 59. Shots: USA 9, Belgium 15. Saves: USA 4, Belgium 4. Corner kicks: USA 5, Belgium 2. Fouls: USA 9, Belgium 9. Offsides: USA 3, Belgium 1. Yellow card cautions: USA - Burns 25, Reyna 80.

Referee: Philippe Kalt (France). Referee's assistants: Daniel Bequignat (France), Alain Dutheil (France). Attendance (Stade Roi Baudouin): 15,894 (weather: 50 degrees, cloudy.)

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