The U. S. men’s national soccer team did something in 90 minutes on Wednesday, Feb. 29 that it couldn’t do in the past 78 years: defeat Italy. The 1-0 victory over Italy in an international friendly in Genoa was the first in 11 tries for the U. S. since the teams first met at the 1934 World Cup in Italy.
The lost was Italy’s first at Genoa since 1924 and it took a well-placed shot from forward Clint Dempsey – his 25th goal in 83 internationals – in the 55th minute of one of the best ever displays by a U. S. national team.
The U. S. had some respectable past results versus the Azzurri when, at the Italia ’90 World Cup, a young American team lost 1-0, but the best result prior to Wednesday was a 1-1 tie in the 2006 World Cup in Germany where the U.S. were the only team to tie the Italians on their way to their fourth World Cup title.
“It’s historic for us beating a team of Italy’s level and it’s a very good win,’’ U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “But what we wanted to do above everything was to learn, to see how we could do against a team like Italy. I think the boys did very, very well, they played great for 90 minutes. And moreover we have young players and they’re growing and it’s from games like this that they do.’’
Klinsmann deserves much of the credit for the U. S. performance; the team played with confidence from the outset, players looked comfortable on the field and not in awe of the four-time world champion which recently qualified for this summer’s European Championship and in the process were undefeated and unscored upon. The Americans were a hardworking, compact and disciplined unit, which displayed fluent soccer.
The usual stellar defense was evident from the start when stalwart goalkeeper Tim Howard kept the Italians at bay with game-saving plays against early pressure from the Italians. Howard, in one of those early nervous moments, barely got his left foot out to steer Thiago Motta’s point-blank shot away from his goal, which turned out to be a crucial turning point in the match. The rest of the defense, anchored by Captain Carlos Bocanegra, took Howard’s cue and with Clarence Goodson next to Bocanegra in central defense and Steve Cherundolo at right full back and Fabian Johnson at left, the U. S. held their ground against a torrent Italian offensive. Johnson’s forays forward, one of which resulted in Dempsey’s goal, were particularly telling.
Central midfielders Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu were at their very best, especially Bradley, who probably played his best game as an international. He was very good on the ball and his distribution was superb. Edu was an efficient ball-winner in the middle as he carried out his task of shutting down Italy’s main midfield schemer Andres Pirlo. On the midfield flanks, lefty Brek Shea, who replaced an ailing Landon Donovan, and Danny Williams supported from goal line to goal line. Shea
Lone striker Jozy Altidore had the hardest job and was outstanding throughout the game; he held onto the ball while surrounded by Azzurri defenders and made the superb pass to the withdrawn forward Dempsey for the score. The goal started when Bradley sent a long pass from deep in the U. S. right half of the field to a streaming Johnson on the left, who advanced the ball before crossing to Altidore as the two forwards finished the play. It was a most memorable and exciting moment for former U.S. striker Brian McBride and the 15,000 Americans in the stands and so many others watching as the underdog U.S. team played an intelligent game against a world power at home. It was an historic moment many will always remember.
Klinsmann has to be smarter in his substitutions. As history was beginning to unfold, Klinsmann seemed to want to sabotage it; with 14 minutes left in the game and the U.S. clinging to a one-goal lead, Klinsmann pulled out one of his best defenders – Johnson, who bothered the Azzurri – and inserted Jonathan Spector at left back. The change was dangerous because just four minutes earlier, he had inserted Sasha Kljestan at left midfield for Shea; with two new players in the same crucial area, weakened the team considerably and gave Italy the opportunity to launch forays on that left side. It was a bad tactical move to change in defense during the last tense moments of such a significant game.
The U.S. confidence should be bolstered by the win over Italy and the team should look to the match-ups versus Scotland (May 26, Jacksonville, FL) and Brazil (May 30, Landover, MD). The Americans open their CONCACAF Zone World Cup qualifying semifinal round on June 8 versus Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa FL.
Italy’s reaction to the loss was philosophical. “With this spirit we’ll have a great European Championship. I’m absolutely not worried,’’ Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “I have a lot to think about ahead of the Euros and I’ll take the best things from this game – the will to win, the determination, the fight to get back. … So it’s not a ‘lost’ friendly.”
Japan Beats U.S. Again
Japan got a goal from Megumi Takase in the 84th minute to beat the U.S. in the semifinals of the Algarve Cup tournament on Monday in Faro, Portugal. The goal came off a six-yard header from Aya Miyama’s corner kick. The defeat was the second for the U.S. at the feet of the Japanese who defeated the Americans on penalties in last summer’s World Cup final. The Japanese are the first team in more than three years to shutout the U.S. Japan will play Germany, which beat Sweden, in the Algarve Cup final.
‘’I think more than anything, it opens our eyes to areas we can improve in,’’ American midfielder Heather O’Reilly said. ‘’Better now that we have this experience than later during the Olympics. I think we have a lot to learn from and a lot grow from, but we’re trying to pull the positives out of it.’’
The U.S. will play Sweden for the third-place trophy. The Americans have won this tournament nine times and were seek a third straight Cup title.