With a 1-0 victory over Italy on Italian soil, the United States Men’s National Team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann achieved one of the greatest victories in the history of the team and their first ever over the Italians.
With World Cup qualifying beginning this summer, here are 10 takeaways from the game.
Clint Dempsey Must Play up Top
While Dempsey can be effective wherever he plays, his ability to score consistently, even against the best competition in the world, means he must play up top for the Nats.
In addition, his holdup play is world-class, something the U.S. desperately needs when playing against teams that will win the possession game.
Fabian Johnson Will Be Big for the U.S.
Johnson’s wonderful performance as a center midfielder against Slovenia had many U.S. fans clamoring for him to be played there again to help the U.S. link up play between their backline and the forwards.
However, Klinsmann chose to deploy Johnson at left back, a position Johnson has recently been playing for his club, Hoffenheim.
Even though there were a few times where Johnson caused some confusion in the backline by falling behind his center backs inadvertently leaving players in onsides positions, Johnson’s overall play on the flank was very strong.
He got forward well, is obviously comfortable on the ball, is naturally left-footed (a quality left-footed left back is something the U.S. has lacked since Heath Pearce was in-form) and provided the service that led to the U.S. goal. (Ironically, that service was from his right foot.)
The only dilemma Klinsmann will face is what to do with Johnson once Timothy Chandler returns.
The Criticism of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley Needs to End
Both youngsters for the USMNT have faced criticism over the years for their consistent inclusion in the U.S. starting XI, Bradley because many fans felt it was nepotism under his father’s management, Altidore because he has gone long spells without scoring.
However, those who still pepper message boards, Facebook and Twitter with these criticisms, need to recognize the development of both players and cease their attacks.
Bradley’s tackling and composure in possession was key to the U.S. being able to both stop the Italian attack and relieve pressure on the U.S. backline. Bradley repeatedly was able to work the ball out of the U.S. defensive third under heavy pressure and generate the U.S. attack.
Altidore’s performance was key as well. Even though he didn’t score, he held the ball up well when he needed to, and his strength on the dribble presents problems for opposing defenses.
Most importantly, Altidore has learned to get his head up around the goal, as was evident with his superb layoff to Dempsey for the game-winning goal.
To top it off, Altidore went back to his club this weekend and scored his 10th goal of the season in the Eredivisie.
Jurgen Klinsmann Can be Pragmatic
Klinsmann came into the U.S. set-up determined to institute a new style of play and a more aggressive set-up in a 4-3-3. However, in its early games, the U.S., while playing more aesthetically pleasing football, failed to score goals or achieve results.
On Wednesday, however, Klinsmann went with a 4-4-2 and two defensive midfielders in Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu.
The two defensive midfielder set-up allowed the U.S. to absorb Italian pressure and stay in the game defensively, while the two forward set-up allowed the U.S. to be more productive in its counterattacks.
Klinsmann’s Push to Change the U.S.’s Style is Helping
Even though Klinsmann lined up in a more conservative 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders, Klinsmann’s work on making the U.S. attack less direct and more possession-based, was still evident.
The U.S. repeatedly worked the ball out of the back instead of simply booting the ball forward which put the U.S. in a much better position to win the game.
Brek Shea Looked Better
Since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the team six months ago, Brek Shea has played in every game for the USMNT and started all but two.
However, in recent games, Shea has displayed little of the flair, pace and attacking ability that excited national team fans when he first entered the squad.
In Italy, however, Shea looked fresh and has clearly benefitted from a few weeks off. His pace was again evident as was his effort as he worked forward to support the attack and consistently worked back to help Fabian Johnson to defend the left-side of the field.
While Shea certainly could have been more productive with his services, he once again looked like a solid player for the Nats in the years to come.
The U.S. Can Compete with Anyone
While many Europeans still feel confident in their superiority over the U.S., the Americans proved once again they are a rising power in world football.
Sure, the Americans are not world beaters just yet, but their track record against world-class teams in recent years is improving and just like the team’s victory over a red-hot Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup, a victory over Italy on their home soil proves the Americans can beat anyone on their day.
If Tim Howard Gets Hurt, the U.S. is in Serious Trouble
Howard was once again brilliant for the U.S. making save after save, including a ridiculous foot save off an early Italian chance.
If he ever gets hurt, the U.S. will lose its most valuable player.
The Backline Still Needs Work
While the foursome of Fabian Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Clarence Goodson should be commended for their clean sheet against the Italians, the U.S. was a little lucky the Italians couldn’t seem to time their runs correctly.
The Italians were ruled off-sides over and over, at least one time incorrectly (although Howard made the save anyways), which saved the U.S.
The most concerning aspect was that the communication and understanding between the back four was so bad that simple diagonal runs by the Italians were not picked up by the American defenders on multiple occasions.
The U.S. Has More Depth Than Ever Before
If most U.S. fans had been told several weeks ago that they would be going into the game without Timothy Chandler, Oguchi Onyewu, Jermaine Jones, Jose Torres and Landon Donovan and still win the game, they wouldn’t have believed it.
However, on Wednesday, the U.S. proved that it has increasing squad depth and that the U.S. can still be competitive even with significant injury problems. This bodes well for this summer and World Cup qualifying.
John D. Halloran