It’s not Guns ‘N Roses unless you have Axl Rose and Slash. And it’s not the U.S. National Team unless you have Donovan and Dempsey. Unfortunately, they haven’t played together in the Klinsmann era (either duo, though I doubt GNR refer to this as the “Klinsmann era”).
It’s nothing to worry about — they’ll be back on the same page by the time the important World Cup qualifiers role around. But in the meantime we’ve had to suffice with the likes of Chris Wondolowski — the Buckethead of international soccer — which makes it hard to assess the state of the national team.
Today’s lineup against Italy: Howard | Fabian Johnson, Bocanegra, Goodson, Cherundolo | Brek Shea, Edu, Bradley, Danny Williams | Dempsey, Altidore. I’m including first names of players who are new-ish to the national team, partly to familiarize the uninitiated and partly as an excuse to drop the name Fabian. I love that we have a Fabian on our team. I hope he becomes a regular. I hope when he scores a goal he pulls a handfull of glitter out of his shin guard, throws it in the air, stares at the camera and just whispers “Fabian”. Great name.
I mostly agree with this lineup. I’d rather see Cameron than Goodson, but that’s not really because Cameron is better; I just want to see how he does in this situation. With so many key players unavailable — Donovan, Chandler, Onyewu, Jones — the lineup mostly writes itself. So far, national team fans have only seen Johnson in attacking roles, but he plays left back for Hoffenheim.
4’ - Italy gets an early chance, but Howard makes an excellent save. Almost the trademark USMNT early goal conceded right there.
6’ - I like the new U.S. jerseys, though they kind of look like a vest. Could they be inspired by Rick Santorum?
11’ - I was glad when Taylor Twellman replaced John Harkes as ESPN’s color commentator, but then D.C. United picked up Harkes, which means I will hear him call 34 games this year. Be careful what you wish for.
14’ - Ian Darke: “Goal line technology may be on the way.” Since the technology has been around for about 15 years, I can only assume that Darke means “Sepp Blatter is an old man and can’t hang on forever.”
18’ - If I were an opposing coach, I’d tell my fullbacks to force Brek Shea onto his right. I’d also tell them to make fun of his hair, but that’s just for catharsis — doesn’t really have anything to do with the game.
24’ - Shea and Johnson have been okay going forward, but they’re not exactly locking it down on the left side.
27’ - Altidore’s wrist was stepped on and he may have to come out. Now is a good time to mention: 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund prospect Terrence Boyd is on the bench. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Boyd’s mother is German, and his father is an American serviceman. In the next defense appropriations bill, what do you say we zero out the F-35 fighter and put all that money towards contraception and sex education for our servicemen in Germany?
34’ - Ian Darke points out that Thiago Motta played for Brazil in the 2003 Gold Cup but is now playing for Italy, an apparent violation of FIFA rules. But his next line is funny: “He got the clearance — who are we to question it?” Um...“we” in that sentence would be “people who hear ‘FIFA’ and ‘Italian football’ and are willing to entertain the possibility that corruption may have played a role in the decision.”
35’ - Dempsey blasts a free kick that rattles the brittle bones of 76-year-old Gigi Buffon. Buffon obviously took his Centrum Silver before the match.
39’ - Why no Balotelli for Italy? I mean, I can guess the reason: because Balotelli did something stupid. But what, specifically? He’s killing it for Manchester City at the moment.
43’ - Good chance for Motta at the top of the box, but Howard makes the save. Most of Italy’s shots have gone right at Howard, which most people call “luck” but goalkeepers call “good positioning”. I’d like to see a goalkeeper play roulette: “Hey, you won! Great positioning!”
Halftime. Good first half for the U.S. — well-organized on defense, not completely toothless in attack. I’d like to see Bradley and Edu take turns going forward; right now, they’re both staying back.
46’ - No subs for either side at half time. Good. Let’s keep this resembling a real game for the time being. We can wait until 60 minutes to see the understudies.
49’ - Italian crowds are some of the quietest in Europe. I guess you don’t make a lot of noise when you’re mostly talking with your hands.
50’ - Twellman: “If Dempsey and Altidore are going to put on pressure up high, then the midfield has to come with them.” Exactly. Good observation. I really prefer Twellman to Harkes.
51’ - Italy are called offside for the eighth time tonight. They’re approaching Eddie Johnson-type numbers.
54’ - GOAL USA! Guess who...Dempsey! A great ball from Bradley starts the move, Johnson plays in a cross that is controlled well by Altidore, who lays it off for Dempsey who one-times it past Buffon. Not just a goal...a nice goal! Not a penalty kick, not a deflection, not a weird, sliced own-goal like in 2006. This one’s legit.
55’ - The only Premier League players with more goals in all competitions than Dempsey are Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero. The only way you do that while playing for Fulham (Fulham! Two-road-goals-per-year Fulham!) is by cashing in a ridiculously high percentage of your chances. Dempsey only needs one look to score a goal, and he’s shown that again tonight.
58’ - The main difference I see between the Klinsmann era and the Bradley era: Klinsmann’s teams are more determined to play the ball out of the back. That, plus we have more transplanted Germans than the space program circa 1952.
62’ - Good chance for Italy, but it’s right at Howard. Good positioning.
67’ - Bocanegra earns a yellow card for a tackle — an American football-style tackle — in the middle of the field. He’s lucky he didn’t get 15 yards for a horse collar.
69’ - Giovinco could have gone down in the box but doesn’t. And with that, he is my new favorite Italian player.
72’ - John Waters’ mustache comes in for Billy Idol’s hair (Kljestan in for Shea).
76’ - Spector — can we start calling him “Iceman”, since he looks so much like Val Kilmer? — on for Johnson.
77’ - Italy really applying the pressure: two good chances in the last 30 seconds were blocked.
78’ - This is huge: Terence Boyd comes on for Altidore. And by “this”, I mean Terence Boyd — he is enormous. He’s also debuting for his country before debuting for his club, which is unusual.
85’ - U.S. just trying to hang on now. If the U.S. can win this it’ll be a huge boost for the players and a nice bullet on Jurgen Klinsmann’s resume.
90’ + 1 - I hate what the U.S. are doing now: collapsing into the box, eight field players within 20 yards of the goal. This is the soccer equivalent of the prevent defense: it doesn’t work way more than it works.
FULL TIME - U.S. wins 1-0! Excellent performance, unbelievable result! This is the first time the U.S. has ever beaten Italy (not counting World War II).
Howard: 8. All kidding aside: he did position himself well, and made some excellent reaction saves.
Johnson: 4.5. Showed some life going forward, but his defense was spotty. He was also slow to step forward a few times but got away with it.
Bocanegra: 6. Still our most consistent defender.
Goodson: 6. I’m sure I’m not the only person who wanted Cameron to get in the game, but Goodson showed that he deserved his spot in the lineup.
Cherundolo: 7. The Mayor has played with Hannover for 14 years. That is incredible. If he was a baseball player he’d be one of those guys that doesn’t get a ton of attention until all of a sudden he has 3,000 hits.
Shea: 4. I want to believe in him as a national team regular, but right now he’s big on potential, short on performance.
Bradley: 8. Massive, massive game. It wasn’t nepotism, folks; he’s just that good.
Edu: 5. Great at winning balls, terrible at distributing them. I still strongly prefer Jermain Jones. Or better yet: a healthy Stuart Holden.
Williams: 5. Very strange game. He had a weak first half with some terrible passing, but he got stronger as the game went on.
Dempsey: 8.5. I’m a Fulham fan, so I watch him a lot: he is in a torrid run of form. Last year was his breakthrough year, and he is better than last year.
Altidore: 8. Great game. Worked hard, held the ball well, and set up the goal.
Kljestan: 3.5. Just about his only contribution was to let his man get behind him a few times.
Spector: 6.5. Had several key blocks. He can be my wing man any time.
Boyd: 6. Wasn’t on for long, but looked like a prototypical target striker. Encouraging.
*Quick note about the U-23s: they beat Mexico’s U-23s 2-0 in a road match (Dallas) tonight. The U.S. was great, especially the attackers: Adu, Agudelo, Diskerud, Gyau, and Carona lit it up. Hamid and Kitchen were also good. It could have been worse than 2-0. Of course, it helps that the entire nation of Mexico remains allergic to marking on corner kicks; it’s amazing that we only scored off of one. Mexico’s two biggest problems are drug cartels and marking on corner kicks and I’m not even sure in what order.