[USA MEN] In naming his squad for a friendly against Italy, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he hoped to build on what the team had achieved in November when the Americans beat Slovenia, 3-2, in Ljubljana, to close out their 2011 schedule. That was the team’s best performance under Klinsmann, and snapped a two-game losing streak. Victories over Venezuela and Panama last month sustained the winning run and with a 4-4-1 record under Klinsmann, the Americans face their toughest opponent of his tenure: they meet the four-time champion in Genoa (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Galavision) as it readies for the European Championships to be played in June.
Twelve players from the Slovenia squad are available to face Italy, which last played the USA at the 2009 Confederations Cup and won easily, 3-1. Much has been made of Landon Donovan’s absence due to bronchitis, which will deprive Klinsmann once again from fielding him and Clint Dempsey at the same time. The absence of one or the other has simplified Klinsmann’s selection decisions somewhat, though Donovan is just one of several starters who can’t play.
Donovan also missed the Slovenia game, in which Klinsmann tweaked his formation to deploy Edson Buddle and Jozy Altidore as forwards with Dempsey in the hole behind them. All three of them scored, and Michael Bradley provided much of the linking play in his best performance for the USA since Klinsmann took over in late July. Though the opposition is much tougher, Klinsmann will again be looking for cohesion and precision going forward as well as stability while defending.
The Italy game comes with less than three months remaining in the European season, during which Dempsey has scored 16 goals in all competitions for Fulham, Altidore has won a place as a regular – but not a consistent starter – at AZ Alkmaar, and Bradley has established a solid reputation for Chievo Verona in his first Serie A campaign. How well that trio handles the duties of keeping possession and penetrating the Italian defense is a key factor in the outcome.
Though reduced are the attacking options for Italy coach Cesare Prandelli – Giuseppe Rossi (knee), Antonio Cassano (heart ailment), Mario Balotelli (disciplinary issues) -- the U.S. back line is also depleted.
Timmy Chandler has emerged as first choice at left back but is unavailable because of a hamstring strain. Fabian Johnson is the leading candidate to replace him after playing a few games recently for his German club team, Hoffenheim, in that slot. Jonathan Spector is also in the squad and is getting regular time at right back with Birmingham City, though he’s played left back in the past for West Ham as well as the U.S.
Injuries ruled centerback Oguchi Onyewu out of the Slovenia game and he’ll also miss this one after suffering a torn ligament and meniscus in his right knee while playing for Sporting Lisbon in a Portuguese league match a week and a half ago. A central defensive pairing of Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra is likely to start.
With just a few days to prepare for a world-class opponent, the Americans must draw from their experience in previous camps under Klinsmann. The only uncapped player picked is Borussia Dortmund forward Terence Boyd, who is one of several team members eligible to compete in the Olympic Games this summer as U-23 players. This is the last game to be played before the USA plays a run of three friendlies in eight days (Scotland, Brazil, Canada) in late May and early June before it starts Concacaf World Cup qualifying June 8.
The six qualifiers in the semifinal round will be played in sets of two, each four days apart in June, September, and October. All will present different problems for Klinsmann as he balances his roster between MLS players and those based in foreign countries.
"It's very important we get these games and in particular playing them on the road,” said Klinsmann to Agence France-Press. “That's when you really get players out of their comfort zone and they have to deal with a difficult environment on a physical and psychological level.
“Our roster is highly competitive and ready to give them a real fight.”