Thursday, March 1, 2012

US' 1st Ever Victory over Italy

It was a historic night in Genoa as the US beat the most storied European soccer power in history, for the first time in history, on Italian soil no less.  Italy is currently ranked #8 in the world and may be flying under the radar for the upcoming European Cup in June, but we're outside the top 30 and our first team's record under Klinsmann was only 2 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw.  (The B team's January camp wins don't count in my book.)  Though the first team had just beat Slovenia in their home stadium, nobody could have predicted that the US would pull off a second consecutive win on European soil, especially since we went away from the effective 2 striker lineup that worked against Slovenia.  Italy, on the other hand, had not even given up a goal in home qualifiers for the Euro Cup.

We finally beat Italy on our 11th try, a win-less streak stretching all the way back to 1934 in that World Cup.  Our record against them was 7 losses and only 3 draws, however the most memorable match was the 1-1 draw in the 2006 World Cup.  It will go down as perhaps my favorite sporting event I've ever attended.  (We were the only team in the tournament that they faced to not go down in defeat.  In fact, we eventually were forced to play with only 9 men and withstood an onslaught the entire 2nd half to secure the draw.  US fans were situated all together in the corner of one of those stadiums where the seats seem to go straight up, therefore enabling the raucous and energetic US fans to generate a wall of sound the entire match.  US players obviously were spurred on by the support and worked their behinds off, as US players should always be known for, to create the memorable result.)

But I digress.  Clearly Italy is not as good and perhaps we are better now, but the US came out unafraid and confident on the ball.  Though the on-field maestro, Andrea Pirlo, was far and away the most dominant force on the field, our backline was absolutely on top of the offsides trap, frustrating Italy to the tune of 9 offside calls.  It was a dangerous game to play, as we all thought that eventually one would slip through, but Howard recovered from a shaky start and became the sure-handed keeper that he needed to be on this night.

Michael Bradley was perhaps our best player from start to finish and was clearly very comfortable playing on that field vs the Italians.  No doubt its because he's been a solid starter in the Serie A this season and just played a match on that very field just two weeks ago.  How Klinsmann can ever start Beckerman over Bradley again is beyond me.  Also, all those who continue beat the nepotism horse now have zero ground to stand on.  The only question is which other defensive mid should play next to him when all options are healthy: Edu?  Jermaine Jones?  Beckerman?  Stuart Holden?  Danny Williams?  Does Klinsmann even intend to play with 2 D-mids?  Remember, against Slovenia, we deployed 1 D-mid and 2 forwards, and scored 3 goals.  Up to that point, we had scored 2 goals in 6 games.

Fabian Johnson again was a revelation for the 2nd straight game (and his 2nd cap), this time starting for the injured Chandler at LB.  We US fans are desperate enough to immediately crown Fabian as the future LB once Cherundolo retires and Chandler moves over to RB.  With Onyewu, Chandler and Fabian now slotted into the WC 2014 defense, all we need is one of: Goodson, Cameron, John, Whitbread, Ream or even, gulp, Bocanegra to come through and take hold of the other CB.  Klinsmann's job is done!

At the very least, Fabian is Klinsmann's most valuable find (Chandler and Shea were capped by Bradley) and should be an auto-call-up for every first team match.  We don't have many other attacking wings besides Shea and Donovan.  Danny Williams, deployed again on the other wing, was again a non-factor going forward.  Clearly this is not his preferred position, since he plays D-mid at his club, and there's no way he starts if Landon doesn't come down with bronchitis.  With the aforementioned logjam at D-mid, where should Danny play?  Where should Jose Francisco Torres play?  Would he be Dempsey's backup at the #10?  What about Stuart Holden?

We've gone 6 paragraphs without talking about the most important moment of the night.  Dempsey's 25th goal started with Bradley's Pirlo-like lofted pass to an advancing Fabian, whose beautiful one-touch pullback also gave him space to cross it into Jozy, who was able to softly collect it with his back to goal, hold it and place it for Dempsey to one-time it across Buffon's body into goal.  Clint is now in sole possession of 3rd place in the all-time US Soccer scoring list, trailing only McBride (30), Wynalda (34) and Donovan (46).  Chances are he'll end up being #2 at the end of his international career.  And last night, against perhaps the toughest opponent in all of soccer to score on historically, it had to be Dempsey, whose achievements consistently confound all odds.

As it stands, we currently have the two best US field players in history on the squad right now.  Its just a matter of getting them on the field at the same time, seeing that this hasn't happened in the Klinsmann era.  Up until Landon's recent Everton stint, I was again thinking that he should play as the central #10, but its clear now that Dempsey belongs there and Landon functions best on the right wing.  Perfect.

This was an enormous victory for Klinsmann.  Obviously, he hasn't found great success since his hyped hiring last summer, but now he has the signature win to hang his hat on.  Hopefully one step at a time, he will continue to lead the team to heights not yet seen before.

Thinking back to the 2006 battle vs Italy, there were 3 heroic players that day that finally guided the US to this satisfying victory - Bocanegra, Cherundolo and Dempsey.  (Donovan and Onyewu also played that day while Howard was on the bench.)  But the most significant US player to me, who gutted out that WC draw with a cut eye from that dirty elbow from de Rossi, was also in the stadium yesterday.  Brian McBride, watching from the stands, undoubtedly served as an inspiration to Dempsey and the next generation of US players last night.  And they will continue to break barriers by standing on the shoulders of McBride and those who came before.

(The US debuted the 2012-2014 away jerseys last night as well.  To be honest, from a distance it looks like a white polo with a blue vest over it.  I just haven't taken to the white-armed look.  But apparently, the sash is here to stay, at least until the new ones are unveiled before WC 2014.  No word on when the new home jersey will come out, however the rumor is that it will be red hoops (no sash) on a white top.  Hmm.)

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