United States' stunning 1-0 victory over Italy demonstrates how much the team has improved under coach Jurgen Klinsmann. This is a team that lost to Costa Rica last September and had the pathetic record of six victories, three draws, and a staggering eight defeats last year.
A series of disappointing performances got coach Bob Bradley dismissed. And in 2011 under Klinsmann, one of the world’s top coaches, the team barely improved. Last year, the USA’s most memorable moments ranged from the 4-0 humiliation against Spain to the 2-1 defeat against minnow Panama to the potential Gold Cup victory so unexpectedly thrown away.
Victories against Venezuela and Panama opened this year on a more positive note, though few first-choice players were featured. Only one player, Brek Shea, played in both the B team games and the full strength U.S. squad that faced Italy.
But even America’s best struggled in Wednesday’s game against Italy. The Azzurri can call upon players from Europe’s top teams, such as Milan and Juventus.
The Americans played with a tight defense that stopped penetration of their penalty area. A deep lying back four supported by holding midfielders freed up space for the Italians to gain possession further up the field.
In contrast, American midfielders were often shut out by their opponents during their own attacking forays. It was clear the Yanks had no intention of out-playing their opponents, but rather would be content with a narrow score line.
In November’s friendly against France, the United States showed similar resolve. The difference was that America’s midfield couldn’t keep up with the French. On Wednesday, a much improved midfield, which included a masterful performance by Michael Bradley, ensured that the United States wasn’t overrun.
Ironically, the United States prevailed by displaying the hard core defensive techniques once used so effectively by Italy. There was more than a shade of Catenaccio to be detected in the United States team, especially in the closing minutes.
But Italy’s commanding domination of the game and access to more experienced players wasn’t enough to prevail over a much-improved American team, once plagued by defensive slip-ups.
Gone are the goals conceded in the opening minutes, and the 2-0 leads thrown away. The United States showed that it can beat a top opponent, even during the absence of talisman Landon Donovan.
Beating a superior opponent who is dominating the game is a difficult feat. That is what will ultimately make the United States progress. There are numerous countries with similar quality personnel. There are several who field better players.
The top American players play for MLS franchises or second-rate European clubs. But the United States national team shouldn’t play like an MLS franchise or a second-rate European club.
It is by finding a way around seemingly invincible opponents that the United States will continue to progress. Winning such matches is facilitated by access to superior players.
Terrence Boyd, a Borussia Dortmund reserve team forward, made his senior international debut before his senior club debut. Boyd looked comfortable on the ball and will eventually become an important part of the team.
The son of an American serviceman and a German mother, Boyd is but the latest example of the increasing German influence on the American team. With Fabian Johnson proving to be a viable option at left back and Jermaine Jones having a good game in midfield, this phenomenon is a success.
Hopefully, Wednesday’s result will give the United States the confidence needed to succeed in the Olympics and the World Cup qualifiers taking place later this year.
Sustaining newfound form will be vital for success.