This will be interpreted as a bellwether, though truthfully it’s not that important. The match sort of measures where the Klinsmann project is right now, at least without Donovan and Dempsey on the same field, but where the project is right now is irrelevant.
Qualification should be a fait accompli (worry if it’s not). The continental tournament is a glorified Mexico friendly. What matters is Brazil, 2014. Much of that will depend on health, form and factors outside Klinsmann’s control. Midseason international friendlies are cash grabs. A result would feed the headline machine, but be worth little more.
History: The USMNT is 0-7-3 all-time against Italy. American fans will remember the 1-1 draw against the eventual World Champions in Germany and will, perhaps, have forgotten getting rolled 3-1 by a distinctly less impressive Azzurri side at the 2009 Confederations Cup. The combined scoreline from the six meetings since 1952 is 7-3 Italy.
Roster Statuses: Both teams will be a bit shorthanded, the U.S. by circumstance and Italy largely by choice. For the Americans Landon Donovan missed the trip recovering from bronchitis and Timmy Chandler is out with a thigh strain. For the Italians, normal starters Daniele De Rossi, Ricardo Montolivo and Giorgio Chiellini will start on the bench. Giuseppe Rossi and Andrea Ranocchia are out due to injury. Mario Balotelli was not called up.
Michael Bradley: The one time coach’s son has thrived since finding a stable club spot at Chievo. The U.S. will need a quality performance from him here. The Italian midfield is disciplined, patient and adept on the ball. With a cool head, the tenacious Bradley can be disruptive up the field. Like Shaq, the Azzuri only raise their dicks when absolutely necessary. Now is not one of those times. If Bradley can spearhead an aggressive American charge, it’s possible the U.S. could steal the impetus.
Weakpoint: They are missing Rossi and Balotelli, but the Azzuri retain enough firepower up front to be trouble for an underwhelming American back four. Alessandro Matri, though inexperienced internationally, has been banging them on the regular for Juventus (10 goals in 17 starts in Serie A). Sebastian Giovinco is small, but sprightly with elite technique and a nose for goal. If he gets space between the midfield and defensive lines on the ball he can terrorize the U.S.
Noteworthy: Grant Wahl took a break from his Italian culinary tour to interview Clint Dempsey. Jorge Arangure takes a look at what El Tri are up to. What may be the new U.S. away jersey resembles a sweater vest.
[Photo via Getty]