Dempsey gives U.S. a historic win
The U.S. had never previously beaten Italy in 11 previous games all-time
Hoffenheim's Fabian Johnson impressed at left back for the U.S. team
The U.S.' pair of holding midfielders helped shore up its defensive holes
GENOA, Italy -- Three thoughts after the U.S.' 1-0 victory against Italy on Wednesday:
• This was a big win. Yes, it was only a friendly, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann's outfit got a historic victory, beating Italy for the first time in 11 games all-time after seven losses and three ties going back to 1934. Beating the four-time World Cup champions on Italian soil, thanks to Clint Dempsey's 55th-minute goal, is even more impressive. Yes, this wasn't Italy's full first-choice lineup, but it was still a team that featured Andrea Pirlo, Gigi Buffon, Thiago Motta and Alessandro Matri -- top-level players who play (or have played) in Serie A. The U.S. had some good buildups in the first half despite more chances created by Italy, and Tim Howard made a huge save early on Motta. The Americans continued showing confidence moving forward in the second half, and Dempsey's deft finish -- off a smart layoff by Jozy Altidore -- was a bit of class in the box that Italy just couldn't match.
• Fabian Johnson is a real find. The 24-year-old German-American was one of the best players on the field again for the U.S. in just his second cap with the national team. Johnson was dangerous against Slovenia as a left midfielder in November, and on Wednesday he was effective as a left back, both defensively and moving forward down the left flank. Johnson has an attacker's mentality, and it was his thrust forward and pass that set up Dempsey's goal. Johnson also had some good moments of understanding with left midfielder Brek Shea, and suddenly the questions about the left-back spot that have plagued the U.S. for years are looking much more answerable.
• Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu did stellar work. There might have been groans from some U.S. fans when they saw the Americans were coming out in an alignment featuring two holding midfielders, Bradley and Edu, and a lone forward in Altidore. But Bradley and Edu had a game Italian soccer-lovers could appreciate, breaking up Azzurri attacks, making smart decisions and essentially winning the midfield battle for much of the game. This was Italy in Italy, so perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised with Klinsmann's formation choice. In the end it worked. The U.S. spine was rock hard in this game, and much of the credit for that should go to the Bradley-Edu tandem.
• U.S. Soccer did something new on this trip, offering what it calls an "Ultimate VIP Experience." The two people who have gone through the program this week are Mark and Kristin Beach, a couple from San Mateo, Calif., where they work in finance. "It's been unbelievable," says Mark, a hard core U.S. fan. "This is the single greatest trip for me, ever." The highlights have been many, they said. Former U.S. star Brian McBride flew over and has been their personal host, sharing nuggets from his playing career. They had private conversations with Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector, got special access to training sessions and received a guided tour of nearby Portofino. (They sat at the game with McBride and surprise guest Mike Piazza, the former baseball All-Star.) "It hasn't all been soccer, so it's a nice balance for me," says Kristin. The price wasn't cheap -- one source says it cost the couple around $16,000 for a three-day experience, not including airfare -- but part of it is tax-deductible and will go to funding U.S. youth development programs. The first couple to do it is coming away happy. "I will be doing this again," Mark said with a smile.
• I figured it was time to do an Annotated Klinsmann, at least when it comes to the old-school numbers that he associates with positions on the field. They're reflected in the numbers players wear on their U.S. jerseys now (from 1 to 11, without names), and they even come up in Klinsmann's discussion of players. The other day he talked about Sacha Kljestan playing in the "6" or "8" position. Here's how it breaks down if the U.S. plays a 4-2-3-1, as it started against Italy:
1 = Goalkeeper
2 = Right Back
3 = Left Back
4 = Right Center Back
5 = Left Center Back
6 = Left Holding Midfielder
7 = Right Wing Midfielder
8 = Right Holding Midfielder
9 = Striker
10 = Central Playmaking Midfielder
11 = Left Wing Midfielder
• The topic of goal-line technology came up again this week after AC Milan had a shot go two feet over the line against Juventus in a crucial Serie A game, only for a goal not to be allowed. UEFA president Michel Platini once again came out and said he was not in favor of goal-line tech (he wants to have goal-line officials), but he's in an increasingly smaller crowd. "I'm 100 percent in favor of goal-line technology," Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Brad Friedel told me yesterday. "If you can set up a Hawk-Eye system that can see 140-mile-per-hour serves and tell if it's in or out, I think we can do it for soccer. As far as should teams have challenges and stuff like that, I say no. You should keep the human element with refereeing with the exception of the goal line."
When I asked U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati if U.S. Soccer and MLS would like to be part of any FIFA experimentation with goal-line tech, he said yes. "We've told FIFA in the past," he said. "Their issue now is to come up with the best system out of the ones that are out there, whether it's Hawk-Eye or another one. If they decide to experiment with one of the systems, we'd be happy to be part of that. MLS has said the same thing."