I was at a wedding (of an Italian friend, no less) north of Pittsburgh on Saturday during the US-Italy game and didn't get to watch it. So, instead of having analysis of what we did to stay with one of the best teams in the world, all I have is a story about how I spent a good chunk of Saturday night completely lost in Joe Namath's hometown of Beaver Falls, PA, unable to read street signs that were completely illegible in the dark, dodging teenagers riding bikes with no lights at 11 p.m., and generally muttering to myself "and they say the South is full of rednecks." And incidentally, I got a new perspective on Ben Roethlisberger's decision not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, since nobody in the Pittsburgh area apparently wears helmets on their bikes. Anyway, having only watched about ten minutes of my tape of the game, here are AdmantiumBlue's thoughts from the Victors board. Admantium knows more about soccer than I could ever dream, so this is really a net positive for you. The only downside is that he won't relate our tactics to those of the Red Army around Leningrad in 1944, nor will he explain how certain events in the game made him feel like Francis Dolarhyde. With those caveats out of the way, here's his take on the US's performance:
I think the Italians paid close attention to the Mexico game in Mexico City and our Costa Rica game, and to some extent the Czech game. They made the decision early to play a very traditional Italian counter-attacking game rather than the more aggressive game they played against Ghana. I think this is because the US style is more of a the quick, short passing style where the midfielders push into the box and we have a big player for set pieces in the box in McBride. I think they wanted to take the space away from us to run in their own end and close all of the passing lanes. If you watch early, they are trying to keep 6-8 players behind the ball in a very tight formation. They are giving us possession in midfield and even giving us the sidelines to some extent, but packing 6-8 tight any time we are in their end to keep Donovan from pushing behind the defense or getting much possession in the box. I don't believe they expected the US to be so creative as this lineup with Convey, Donovan, Reyna, and Dempsey in midfield (along with Mastroeni. Dempsey especially had more flair and was more creative than they seemed to be prepared for. ON the other had, they recognized that the individual skill level and finishing of the US wasn't that high and the US relies on quickness and short passing in an opponents' end (with numbers coming into the area from midfield), so they packed it tight and were hoping to spring a fast counter as others have done to us. Contest the ball in their back third, and spring the fast on the counter-attack, which is very different from what Lippi's team had done in previous games and showed a lot of respect for the quickness and fitness of the US team. I don't think he wanted to challenge us in midfield, where we had loaded up numbers, and leave his defense exposed to our quick midfielders penetrating the box. His strategy worked to a great extent early, as the US had a lot of possession, but didn't really create many real good shots, and they got the early lead on that set play. Had the teams stayed at 11-11, I think they would have continued this strategy and patiently waited to open up a bigger lead.
Instead two things changed their gameplan. The own goal by Zaccardo evened things up, and then De Rossi gets justifiably bounced (obviously reckless if not intentional elbow).
The US tries to take advantage but the Italians are even more resolved to pack things tight at the box after the sending off.
Then comes the Mastroeni red card. Personally, I think it was the wrong call, but I think that it is not as unjustifiable as many think. From my red, white and blue perspective, Mastroeni nearly got the ball so we saw worse in this game. But this wasn't a foul where he came in under the guy or the guy tripped over him, Mastroeni drilled his ankle with his cleats. He nailed him good. If the ref felt he was intentionally playing the man with his cleats up, then he would have to call it (especially since it was a blind hit, where the player never saw Mastroeni). It is a harsh call though, as he had no warning, no yellow, just one close call and boom, he is gone. The ref is just going to say that FIFA gave them instructions to call those type of hits and Bocanegra and all of the players were told they were calling that red this year (any malicious hit from the back). ON the other hand, Mastroeni really wasn't that late, he nearly got the ball.
Pope's sending off was less controversial in my mind. He knew that he had a yellow, and continued to pull people down and hit from behind. They weren't nearly as rough as Mastroeni's hit (which was pretty violent), but they are just obvious fouls that add up. He could have been sent off in the first half for a lot of those shoves, tugs, and trips he was pulling so as not to get beat (he is just getting way to slow to be part of the national team). That was just half expected in my mind.
I think the US played about as great of a game as could be expected. I don't think the Italians were prepared for convey and Dempsey and how well the US attack was played wide (Donovan later as well). They just kept finding ways to create opportunities in the box, though not really that many really good shots on goal, but possession and some opportunities.
Convey's finishing was disappointing, however, his play out wide was really excellent. He was even turning some in pretty well and making runs inside against a tightly packed box.
Mastroeni was having a great game, and Reyna was dogging Pirlo everywhere, rarely giving an inch to the guy. Keller was phenomenal and the reason the US stayed in as long as they did.
Beasley did what he was brought in to do. To take advantage of his speed and pressure the Italians. He was loafing at time, but was pretty effective in the limited time he was brought in. Donovan was doing very well in helping distribute the ball, and played even better when he got pushed out on the right. He was working very hard.
McBride had a tough game, as Nesta was all over him. He lost far more airballs than he won, and he doesn't have the pace anymore to be part of any real offensive scheme (just set pieces). Still, he was the US's one shot at having a player up there that could get control of the occasional long ball and distribute it to on rushing midfielders. He was also a big body in there on set pieces. You also have to give McBride some credit for the US goal. Zaccardo gambled with that poor attempt at clearance, because he feared McBride in the box. IF they hadn't watched a lot of film and recognized McBride as the main threat, I'm not so sure he just swings at it recklessly like that.
I probably would have subbed O'Brien or Wolff for Donovan late and tried to get fresh legs in there. I don't think Eddie Johnson fit with the gameplan, which was to defend like hell and try and grab the quick counter on a long ball or dumping up the right sideline. It was working, and the US needed at least a point, so you can't blame Arena for staying conservative.
I admire the grit and determination of the team in bouncing back and really hustling against Italy to an extent we didn't see against the Czechs.
Incidentally, in light of the Italians' preference for going to ground, I found this very funny: