Dempsey goal, tenacious defense gives U.S. first victory over Italy 1-0.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, February 29, 2012) -- After coming up empty in 10 meetings with Italy over 82 years, the United States men used a goal by midfielder Clint Dempsey early in the second half to shock the Italians 1-0 at Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, Italy.
The Americans were clearly outmatched by Italy, but after Dempsey converted their only good scoring chance in the 55th minute, the U.S. repelled attack after attack by the swarming Italians to hold on for its historic victory.
The U.S. managed only one other shot on goal beyond Dempsey's strike, a long-range free kick by Dempsey that veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon easily punched away. Italy outshot the Americans 19-4, 7-2 on frame.
"It's historic for us beating a team of Italy's level and it's a very good win," U.S. coach Jürgen 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."'
When Klinsmann took over the U.S. program last year, he promised a new style -- "proactive, rather than reactive" was how he termed it. Yet, tonight, it was very much a former American style, first employed by Bruce Arena, then by Bob Bradley that allowed the U.S. to prevail -- defend as a team, crowd the midfield, cut off the passing lanes and offensively wait and hope for a break.
That break came in the 55th minute when U.S. midfielder Fabian Johnson countered down the left side. He crossed to striker Jozy Altidore who, with his back to the goal, touched it back to Dempsey. Dempsey took a moment and slotted his shot beyond the reach of an outstretched Buffon and inside the left post.
"It was a good ball in," Dempsey said. "It was chipped to (Altidore). Initially, I was going to stay where I was, but I saw the guy who was covering him had moved, so I moved to my right to try to get open so he could play me the ball. He did a great job of holding it up, playing me, so I tried to hit it low and hard at the far post and it went in."
All through the match, the U.S. back-line played very well. It seemed that whenever Italy tried a shot, an American defender or midfielder was there to get his body in the way. At times, the U.S. left too much space in the middle as it dropped back and allowed Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo to send pass after pass over the top or to the wings, but the defense was helped by 11 offside calls against the Italians, several very close.
"I was worried about how can we stop those balls from Pirlo all the time?" Klinsmann said. "How can we read the game ahead? How do we behave against them when they are on a passing roll? Then, it gets really difficult and I think we were prepared for that. We tried as much as possible to prepare them and they did well."
This was going to be the match where Klinsmann finally had midfielders Landon Donovan and Dempsey together on the field at the same time -- a first since he took over as coach last year. However, Donovan had bronchitis, while central defender Oguchi Onyewu was lost to knee surgery, defender Timmy Chandler was out with a strained left hamstring, midfielder José Torres sat out with a strained right hamstring and defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones was missing with a strained right calf. This left Klinsmann with an undoubtedly weakened team.
Meanwhile, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli tried to walk a fine line, getting a look at some of his less experienced players ahead of this summer's European Championships, while still bringing in a veteran-laden squad. Missing tonight were two veteran strikers Manchester City's tempestuous Mario Balotelli and Pablo Osvaldo, out-of -favor Roma. Also absent were injured forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano, while Prandelli saved two likely starters this summer -- Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini and Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi -- for limited second-half duty.
Once again, the U.S. really didn't show much offense. Without Donovan, there was not much flow to the American attack, but if the U.S. can continue to take advantage of the breaks that do come, the prospects are brighter when the sick and injured Americans return.
"We fight for respect every time we step on the field, so every little bit helps," U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. "When you come into tonight and are able to play a game like that, it's a good result. At the same time, we're not going to sit here and act like just because we won a friendly 1-0 that we've made it. We'll take it for what it is and use it as a stepping stone."
"In our good moments, I thought our soccer was good tonight. We were able to move and find little ways to play into each other and get balls out of tight spots. Like always, when you play in these kinds of games against big teams, you have to be able to suffer as a team. You have to be able to manage the game in difficult moments and I thought when we needed to keep the ball in front of us and defend, block shots and manage those things, we did well."
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 7: As steady a match as one could want from a keeper. He was there to make every save and, for the most part, to make them look easy, such as the early kick save that was a pure reaction stop.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6: He has been playing at left back for his club team and, although it may not be his strongest position, he showed that against a quality opponents, he can play the position well. He was able to get forward on occasion and his run started the sequence leading to the decisive tally.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 5.5: From time to time was very good, although he was helped on occasion by the assistance referee's offside flag. Still needs big match experience but showed he can be counted on when needed.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: In a match like this, experience counts and the veteran was rarely out of position and able to make the stops he had to. A very strong match..
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: He too has the big match experience the U.S. needs in situations like tonight. He was never beaten to the outside while still able to move into the middle when called upon.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7.5: Ass he was in the last international match in Europe against Slovenia, he was the U.SA.'s best player tonight. Strong on defense and was able to sit in the middle and dish off the ball on offense.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 6: At times tonight he was very good and contributed key stops. But others times gave Pirlo too much room which is never a good thing.
Midfielder Brek Shea - 5: He is still a young player gaining experience. He was slated to play for the U-23s getting ready to play in the Olympics but was a last minute call-in. He was inconsistent tonight, good moments and more not so good. He needs to play many more matches at a higher level if he is to become a regular starter when everyone is available.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 6: The young German-American continues to show well, though he stands to eventually lose his spot in the lineup to a returning Donovan.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 7.5: At the moment the U.S. needed him most, he was there to win the match. He was good on free kicks, keeping defenders at bay and was trouble to the Italians all night.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6: He was not only the lone American on top for much of the evening, but he tended to drift wide to both sides. What he did do was hold the ball and try to play it off to teammates coming to the front. In Dempsey's case, it worked perfectly.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (72nd minute for Shea) - 4.5: Not a strong appearance, either offensively or defensively. He never seemed to find his rhythm. .
Defender Jonathan Spector (76th minute for Johnson) - 6.5: Not a long appearance, but enough time for several great blocks and some very stellar defensive moments.
Forward Terrence Boyd (78th minute for Altidore) - 5: The 19-year-old German-American earned his first cap even before he played for the first team of Borussia Dortmund, his Bundesliga side. He did not seem out of place and he defended well from the front line in a short effort.
Forward Edson Buddle (92nd minute for Dempsey) - no rating: Inserted to take time off the expiring clock.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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