International Soccer Friendly Preview: USA vs. Italy

The USMNT will face its most formidable test of the Klinsmann era today when they take on the Azzurri in Genoa. The US have previously faced tough European opposition under Klinsmann, but the Italians offer a new test and bring a style of play the Americans are not accustomed too.

Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli, announced his starting XI yesterday via a tweet from Grant Wahl.  The Azzuri will be anchored in goal by World Cup veteran and Italian legend, Gianluigi Buffon.  The backline will consist of the likes Cristian Maggio of Napoli, Andrea Barzagli of Juventus, Angelo Ogbanna of Torino, and Domenico Criscito of Zenit.  Not the typical backline that Prandelli would use, but yet again the start of the Euros are only a few months away and Prandelli needs to cover all his bases before the tournament begins.

The real danger for the US lies in Italy's midfield third, which will be comprised of Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio, and Antonio Nocerino. These four are not the fleetest of foot, but they have the ability to play great 1 and 2 touch passes that will present immense danger for the US backline.  Look for Pirlo to be the deep lying midfielder who controls the flow of the game, the real test for the US will be to not allow Pirlo the time and space to play those cutting edge passes.  Motta and Marchisio will provide a more creative presence in the final third, look for them to link up with the forwards Giovinco and Matri.  I would expect Nocerino to assume the search and destroy role that De Rossi usually holds.  The other three midfielders are not the most tenacious of tacklers and Italy usually likes to have atleast one true ball winner in the midfield to aid the three creative midfielders, so Nocerino is the guy by default.

Now on to what the US team will look like, which should be quite interesting considering the recent injuries picked up by key players. The US will be without the likes of Timmy Chandler, Oguchi Onyewu, Landon Donovan, and Jose Torres, all of which would have figured to be in the starting XI had they been available.

Considering all the injuries, look for a few guys to be slotted in positions we don't normally see them play with the USMNT. I expect Tim Howard to be between the pipes for the US as they will need his veteran leadership to guide them through this matchup.

The backline is an area of great concern in this game with the likes of Chandler and Gooch out.  Hopefully Steve Cherundolo has recovered enough to feature at right back as his veteran leadership will be sorely needed.  If it was up to me, which cleary it is not, I would go with Geoff Cameron as the RCB.  I think the combination of his size, speed, and willingness to play with the ball at his feet make him an ideal candidate for Klinsmann's style of play.  Alongside of Cameron I expect to see the captain, Carlos Bocanegra, who will need to be on top of his game if the US wants to get a result out of this fixture.  The biggest question along the backline has to be at left back, with no Chandler there is a gaping hole.  There are a few options with Jonathan Spector being the only true defender who can fill this role, the other options come in the form of the versatile German-Americans, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams.  I am going to go with Johnson in this role due to his ability to go forward with pace and skill and the fact that he has spent some time, albeit a limited amount of time, at left back with is club team.

In the midfield I expect Jurgen to play with three across and an attacking midfielder to provide the link to the forwards.  Look for the likes of Bradley, Williams, and Edu to play the three holding midfielders, while Dempsey is given the opportunity to be the link and rove about the field to find the game.  We all know that Deuce is the key to the US attack, so giving him the freedom to find the game only makes sense.

Lastly, we come to the strikers who have been a bit disappointing to say the least.  Jozy is coming off a two goal game this past weekend and the partnership between him and Edson Buddle worked quite well the last time they paired up.  Even though Edson has not seen any live game action in a while I still like the partnership those two have together.

Get yo popcorn ready!!! This game looks to be a real thriller.  The action gets underway at 2:30ET on ESPN2.

Get more great soccer stuff over at US Futblog.


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