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USA vs. Belgium Preview: The Return of Jozy and Rise of Yedlin

Jozy Altidore is back in the fray and DeAndre Yedlin's been impressive in the past couple matches. What do both mean for the USMNT's chances make them major talking points as the USMNT prepare to take on World Cup dark horse Belgium in Salvador on Tuesday.

DeAndre Yedlin celebrates with Graham Zusi after a solid defensive showing against Germany
DeAndre Yedlin celebrates with Graham Zusi after a solid defensive showing against Germany
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Twitter exploded when the U.S. Soccer Federation announced that Jozy Altidore would be fit to play in the USMNT's round of 16 match against Belgium on Tuesday.

Pundits and fans agree that the Stars and Stripes missed their big target forward after he injured his hamstring in the USMNT's opening game against Ghana. While he hasn't played since June 16, the Sunderland man has plenty to offer in terms of pace and holding up the ball to allow other creative players to pepper the opposition with chances.

And most agree that the U.S. will need that pace and power if it is to compete with Belgium, a team that most pundits have picked as dark horses to lift the World Cup trophy.

While Belgium being called a dark horse has become so widely accepted and used that it has almost lost its meaning, the team certainly looks capable of a far run into the tournament. After taking nine points from its three group stage games, the Red Devils look to be trying to match the massive pressure that has been placed on the player's shoulders.

Many pundits feel that Belgium hasn't lived up to its potential, scraping out narrow wins over Algeria, Korea Republic and Russia, all of which seem to represent inferior competition compared to the Red Devils.

With players such as Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany and Thibaut Courtois, the Red Devils are certainly spoiled for talent. But a team of spectacular individuals can only get so far without acting as a unit and this seems to be Belgium's downfall.

It contains many great individuals, but most are relatively inexperienced and some are not accustomed to performing at the highest level in a high pressure situation. One player that seems to be cracking under this pressure is center-forward Lukaku. The Chelsea striker has looked timid in the opening two games against Algeria and Russia, eventually being subbed off for 19 year-old Divock Origi on both occasions.

The youngster was a surprise inclusion in Marc Wilmots' squad, but he has more than proved his worth, relieving Lukaku of his striker duties when the forward has looked challenged and striking the winner in the 1-0 win over Russia.

If the Red Devils are to progress farther in this competition, they will need to focus on a more team-oriented mentality while also trying to shake Lukaku out of this slump. But before they can dream of the final in the Maracanā, they must break down the U.S. defense.

This has proved to be a harder challenge than many teams would have thought entering the competition. The USMNT has shown resilience in the face of tough opposition, and the back line often bends but doesn't break.

Speaking of the back line, a lot of controversy has been aimed at coach Jūrgen Klinsmann's decision to start Omar Gonzalez over Geoff Cameron against Germany and what the USMNT coach will do this time around. Gonzalez was solid at the back for the Stars and Stripes against Germany but his fitness must be a question coming into the round of 16 matchup.

After being injured coming into training camp and not playing a competitive game for weeks before starting against Die Mannschaft, the Los Angeles Galaxy center back may need to be preserved as his body may not be up for two back-to-back 90 minute performances. This opens the door for Cameron to regain his starting spot, which could have positive consequences for the Yanks as well.

Cameron plies his trade in the Barclays Premier League with Stoke City, meaning he regularly comes up against Lukaku, Hazard,  Kompany and the rest of Belgium's strong contingent from the English domestic league. Alongside Tim Howard and Altidore, Cameron is one of the USMNT's few players who knows how the other team moves and operates.

Howard, who was teammates with Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas this season and Fellaini during the 2012-13 season, also knows much about the Belgians and how many of the players think and react. With this added knowledge, the Yanks hope to shock the world once again by advancing to the quarter finals.

Another secret weapon in the Stars and Stripes' arsenal is speedy youngster DeAndre Yedlin. The Seattle Sounders man has been pivotal when coming on late in the USMNT's fixtures against Portugal and Germany and he hopes to have a similar effect on the Belgians.

Coming in as a right midfielder instead his natural position of right back, Yedlin has impressed with his pacy runs to the oppositions byline and his ability to find his teammates and create dangerous situations. Fabian Johnson seemed to have the right back position locked up going into the group stages, but Yedlin appears to be giving Klinsmann thoughts on potentially implementing him into the starting lineup.

If the former Akron product comes in to relieve the right-sided midfielder for a third straight game on Tuesday, expect him to speed the game up to his pace and really give Jan Vertonghen problems on the Belgian left side.

The 2014 World Cup has been full of surprises, perhaps the U.S. can provide one more as it attempts to break into the quarter finals.