USA Finds Winning Blueprint Against Azzurri

A lot of soccer-savvy people say results don’t matter in friendlies. It’s all about the quality of the play and the individual performances – worry about results when something’s on the line. But for the US team, something’s always on the line – respect. The under-appreciated bunch has played pretty in plenty of losses under Klinsmann; but in finally putting together a string of positive results has perhaps found its foundation in a staunchly organized structure and a pragmatically opportunistic attacking mentality.

It started against France, where a couple of lapses of concentration cost the mostly organized US team a result. It continued in Slovenia and Panama, where scrappy games were closed out with hustle and determination. In Genoa, the US team was always going to be on the back foot. No one goes into Italy and bosses around the home side, especially a depleted USA squad which has none of the pedigree of the Italians. Deprived of attacking punch and defensive steel by the late scratches of Timmy Chandler, Jermaine Jones, Oguchi Onyewu, Jose Torres, and Landon Donovan, Klinsmann wisely set his team up to defend with resolve and discipline, and come forward when practical.

The result was a quality win in a hostile environment on European soil – a rare artifact if you go digging through the USSF history books – and a team that is finally seeing the fruits of its labor.

Goalkeeper – Howard was perfect in the net. After his early leg save, his positioning kept him from ever being stretched.

Defense – Fabian Johnson, please step into your new role as the #1 left back. His cross led to the goal, and he was a menace pushing forward every chance he had. After a shaky start defending, he settled down nicely in his own half as well. Bocanegra owned his penalty area and the team threw themselves at everything Italy gave them.

Midfield – Michael Bradley – wow. That was the best central midfield performance I’ve seen from a US player in a long, long time. Did he miss a pass? How many tight spaces did he crawl out of with the ball? His chip to Johnson for the telling cross was just one example of the precise play he’s demonstrating right now. Bravo. As for the rest of ‘em, Edu was very, very good. Shea was physically imposing but lacked class and insight. Danny Williams defended with aplomb and worked his socks off in a role he’s not well-suited for.

Dempsey – He gets his own spot on this list because he was asked to defend with the midfield and attack with the forward. He scored a very nice goal, completely flummoxing Buffon on Altidore’s layoff, and demonstrated a consistent comfort level on the ball. Was gassed at the end, having chased the back of Italy’s midfield for a long second half.

Strikers – Jozy was an isolated figure going 1 against 3 or 4 at times, and tried to fight for his scraps. He came up huge at the key moment, bringing down Johnson’s cross in a tight crowd and pushing it onto Dempsey’s right foot for the winning goal. He had a frustrating first half, but made his mark on the game.

The US is thrilled with this result and the confidence it gives them heading into a long break from international play. Knowing that they can win in tough matches without Donovan and other key contributors will make their return that much more exciting. We’ve seen this team gut out some nice results – the next step will be to control games against lesser competition like we’ll see in World Cup Qualifying. The team returns to action in late May against Brazil on American soil, hopefully healthy and rested after a long European season. Beyond that, we’ll see a couple of friendlies against more reasonable competition (Scotland, Canada) before World Cup qualifying.

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