As the United States gets ready for their friendly against Italy, they have one goal: improve. That's the case with most friendlies, but it is especially true of the U.S. in this one. For one thing, it is a single date, midweek friendly so this isn't exactly a match scheduled for anyone to excel. Second, the team is without several of their first choice players. Third and most importantly, Jurgen Klinsmann is still working on transforming his American team and a finished product is still well off.
A non-finished product is not exactly what a team wants when going up against Italy. While the last image of the Italians that some may have is of them trudging off of the field in South Africa after a winless World Cup, they have since gotten younger and much, much better. They dominated their Euro 2012 qualifying group and come into this friendly much more like the Italy teams of old than the one that played in South Africa.
In the midfield, the Italians are a mix of the old and new and it is impressive. With Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Nocerino, the Italians are stacked in the center of the pitch. Likely lined up in a diamond, the midfield will be able to present a major problem for the Americans, especially with Sebastian Giovinco dropping deep to provide another option when needed.
The U.S. likes to fancy their midfield as the strongest part of the team and it is, but they are going to get a lesson in strength. Exactly who Klinsmann decides to play is still a mystery and not having Landon Donovan certainly makes things more difficult, but the problems presented by the Italians will outweigh whatever problems the U.S. has. If Klinsmann wanted a challenge, he found it.
What will be the biggest challenge for Klinsmann and Co. is whether to continue trying to build the possession-minded, attacking style they have been developing under the German or whether they try and absorb some pressure. The former seems more likely considering Klinsmann's intent to keep the ball, but the latter could be successful, especially considering the weakened crop of forwards the Italians have in their team for the match.
Whatever they do, the true measure of their success is whether they can create chances out of it. While the Americans' possession has certainly improved under Klinsmann, with the exception of the Slovenia match, the chances have dwindled. The passing is often without purpose and the movement has been downright depressing at times as the players have spent more time watching the ball than making themselves available. They have to be active and they have to make intelligent runs to creating chances to break down teams, even those that are better than they are.
A win against Italy in Italy is asking too much from the U.S. Moreover, it doesn't matter. Results in individual friendlies are meaningless, but they do serve a purpose. They are opportunities to continue building towards the matches that do matter, which are the World Cup qualifiers just four months away. Let's see what the U.S. is building.
Three Questions For the U.S.
- What does Klinsmann do at left back?- Timothy Chandler is out of the match with a bad hamstring, which leaves Klinsmann without his first choice at the position. Jonathan Spector is one option and Carlos Bocanegra is another, but they are a pair of tried and failed options as international left backs. That leaves Fabian Johnson, who has been at left back for Hoffenheim for more than two months ago. He gives the U.S. a left-footed option there and while some believe he is best in the midfield, he has proven himself capable at the Americans' weakest position against Bundesliga competition. It's tough to justify not giving him a run out there for the Yanks.
- Will Sacha Kljestan get a chance?- The midfielder has been starring for Anderlecht and has helped them to the top spot in the Belgian Pro League, yet it took a series of injuries to players on the original U.S. roster for him to get a call up by Klinsmann. For whatever reasons -- most of which only Klinsmann understands -- Kljestan is not exactly front and center for the U.S. right now so if he gets a chance against Italy, he will need to leave no doubt that he deserves more looks. Against Italy's midfield, Kljestan will be tested, but if he can fill the hole in the U.S. midfield with the ability to open up the field with his passing, he can make a major statement.
- Can the U.S. defense keep from being exposed?- Ever since Klinsmann took over, the Americans have taken to playing a high defensive line. This has left them exposed at times because they have not played the most athletic of central defenders. With players like De Rossi, Marchisio and especially Pirlo, the Italians will have no shortage of players who can play the great ball in behind the U.S. defense and Giampaolo Pazzini can get in behind them. Either the U.S. midfield will have to consistently pressure and make it tough on the Italians to play the long ball or Geoff Cameron will have to get a look in defense to give them a more athletic option. Otherwise, the U.S. could be in trouble.