U.S. generated no real attack in loss to Italy, but scrappy defense was impressive.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, February 13, 2002) -- United States men’s Bruce Arena cannot be too happy with his attack, though he can be pleased with his defense after losing 1-0 to Italy at Stadio Cibali in Catania, Italy.
It was troubling how little offense the U.S. generated despite the Italy’s decision to concede tons of room in the first half. And when an Italian defense considered the most organized and efficient in the world gave the Americans a gift, Landon Donovan could not convert his free run on goal. Sixteen yards out and with plenty of net to shoot at, the teenager hit the far left post and watched the ball spin harmlessly away.
Italian goalkeeper Francesco Toldo was not otherwise tested, making four routine saves.
Still, the U.S. played one of the World Cup favorites even, considering the one Italian goal shouldn’t have been. Defender David Regis was shoved to the ground by Gianluca Zambrotta who started a quick counterattack which the Americans were in no position to defend. Two quick passes later, Alessandro Del Piero hit an easy six-yard volley into an open net for the game-winner as three U.S. defenders chased futilely from behind.
In the first half, the Italians seemed content to defend, allowing the U.S. plenty of space in the midfield. When Italy attacked, the American backs and defensive midfielder Chris Armas did a nice job with Christian Vieri and Francesco Totti, that being no small achievement.
While Italy allowed the U.S. lots of possession and the ability to string numerous passes together, the Americans did not generate a coherent attack or a really strong shot on frame.
The Azzurri headed off the field at intermission to the boos and whistles of their home fans. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni responded by inserting star striker Del Piero and three other younger, more offensive-minded younger players eager to make the World Cup team Italy quickly took control, but except for the goal that shouldn’t have been, the U.S. held off the Italians as they pushed forward.
Losing to Italy at home 1-0 on a disputed goal looks good on paper, but while the U.S. was certainly was respectable in defeat, it must find a way to attack in numbers against good opponents. Outshooting Italy 15-8 on the scoresheet might look impressive, but the Americans had only one quality chance and they must find a way to do better.
Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 6: Not a lot of work, but a solid effort. Two fine saves and he controlled the ball well in his area.
Defender Jeff Agoos - 5.5: Led the defense responded like a veteran to pressure in the second half.
Defender Gregg Berhalter - 5.5: Did surprisingly well against Christian Vieri in the first half, no small task, thoughed he did not react well in some situations. Helped himself in the World Cup picture.
Defender David Regis - 6: One of his best defensive efforts for the U.S. Not only denied Italy room on its right side, but consistently came into the middle to backup central defenders. On the Italian goal, should have moved the ball more quickly, but was clearly fouled.
Defender Tony Sanneh - 5.5: A good effort on both ends of the field. Defended well, especially man-to-man and pushed the ball up the right side often.
Midfielder Chris Armas - 7: Best U.S. player, scrambling around the back, providing key defensive stops and support when needed.
Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: Looked the best player for the U.S. in the midfield. Got involved in the offense, while still providing defensive cover.
Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 5: Not one of his better efforts for the U.S. Had some nice touches, but, by and large, was never really in this match, especially in the second half when Italy started to crowd the midfield and move players forward
Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 5: Had a very quiet match. Was a factor early, but contributed little after that.
Forward Joe-Max Moore - 5: Under constant physical pressure and had little room to operate. Did little with his few chances.
Forward Landon Donovan - 4.5: Should have converted Materazzi's gift for a goal. Again, did not respond well to physical pressure and was easily moved off the ball often. His youth and inexperience showed.
Defender Frankie Hedjuk (58th minute for Sanneh) - 5: His speed helped on a few plays, but generally he did not have much of an impact.
Forward Josh Wolff (65th minute for Donovan) - 5: Never really a factor after he came in. Was easily handled by Italian defenders
Forward Jovan Kirovski (78th minute for Moore) - 5: A few decent touches and tracked back well to help defensively, but no impact.
Midfielder Eddie Lewis (79th minute for Reyna) - 5: Created a couple chances late, but made bad decision to shoot with players open and probably in better scoring position.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..