When Jurgen Klinsmann was hired as US head coach he emphasized scheduling big-time fixtures in Europe–folks this is one of those fixtures. The United States Men’s National Team will match up against Italy at the historic Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa. The Yanks will be in a castle of brick walls with hostile fans screaming from all sides; quite a test for the young group and coach young in his tenure as US head coach.
After a poor showing in the 2010 World Cup, Cesare Prandelli was quickly hired to help revamp the Italian program, and his work has shown in the youthful and explosive squad to date that recently qualified for the 2012 Euros. Led by a midfield with three Juventus stars Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini, the US will have a tough time possessing throughout the game, especially with the loss of Landon Donovan and Jermaine Jones.
This will put pressure on Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu, the two most veteran midfielders; while it will be up to Klinsmann to decide whether he should start the inconsistent Sacha Klijestan or inexperienced Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams who only have six national caps between the two. In attacking both teams are more closely matched as Italy hosts two talented Serie A strikers in Giampaolo Pazzini (Inter) and Alessandro Matri (Juventus) and the US has Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, and Clint Dempsey, who is the player in best form on the squad.
In the backfield, Italy will once again have a showing of strong defenders led by Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini. Meanwhile, the US will have familiar faces Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo presumably starting, the mystery is who will start along side the two vets? Clarence Goodson and Jonathan Spector are familiar playing at an international level, but rising MLS star Geoff Cameron could potentially get his fourth and most important appearance in the red white, and blue.
So what does this premiere matchup mean for the United States? Obviously they are coming into the match as underdogs at 31st in FIFA rankings compared to Italy who is in the top ten at eighth. Italy’s last fixture was a frustrating loss at home to Uruguay, where they gave up an early goal in the 3rd minute and were unable to obtain an equalizer in the last 87. The United States’ recent competitions were versus CONCACAF opponents Panama and Venezuela where the Yanks won both matches in unforgettable 1-0 performances. With most of the top national players reuniting for the first time since November for the United States, it will be a mystery to how well the chemistry will be, especially with the absence of Donovan and Jones. Although the challenges seem immense, a chance to play in a hostile environment versus world-class opponents is always opportunity for US to shine, surprise, and grow. If the US can surprise Italy with an early goal from Dempsey or Altidore they might be able to hold off for a draw or 1-0 victory much like Uruguay. The Yanks may be less talented, less experienced, and unsupported on European ground–but these are the perfect ingredients for another chance for United States soccer to shock the world.
US VS ITALY 2:45pm EST ESPN2/3
The Prediction: US scores early with a strike from Clint Dempsey, but is not able to hold off the Italy attack and end up drawing 1-1.