We're moments away from the start of the game. The teams are out on the field and captains Donovan and Buffon exchange pleasantries.
And we're off. The U.S. is playing in white tops and white shorts.
1 min: Italy kicks off and the ball drifts out to Bornstein, who clears it. Bornstein's starting again instead of Beasley, which is probably a huge relief for U.S. fans. These days, "Beasley is in the lineup" are five words that along with a date citing Kelly Clarkson's song "I Do Not Hook Up" are possibly the two things that a red-blooded U.S. male fan dreads hearing the most.
3 mins: Poor control by Gross on the sideline almost allows Feilhaber to sneak in and break down the ltalian left, but Chiellini cleans up.
4 mins: The two teams are still feeling each other out -- Altidore had the ball down by the corner flag just now and beat two Italian defenders with a nifty bit of skill before Italy regained the ball.
5 mins: Camoranesi surges forward in midfield and tries to send Gilardino free with a probing pass but DeMerit reads it and makes a nice interception. U.S. clears.
6 mins: A long ball from the U.S. down its left looking for Dempsey goes out of bounds. Moments later, Altidore draws a free kick after Gattuso halts his run with one of his trademark tackles. It's a free kick for the U.S. in a dangerous position out on the edge of the Italian box.
8 mins: Donovan pushes it short to Dempsey who winds up and unleashes a shot that will end up as a nice souvenir for one of the fans in the crowd.
9 mins: Nice build-up by Italy, Pirlo makes a nifty turn and tries a slide-rule pass to Iaquinta, who tries to break in behind the U.S. defense, but DeMerit is up to the task and matches him for pace before clearing. From the throw-in, Camoranesi receives the ball wide open in the U.S. box but with several Italian attackers waiting in the box, he shanks his cross well over.
11 mins: De Rossi takes a page out of the U.S. book and hoofs a long ball up to Iaquinta on the edge of the U.S. box. Iaquinta nods it back to an on-rushing Gilardino who sizes it up and welts a tame shot along the ground which won't trouble Howard.
15 mins: Pretty tame stuff so far from both sides. I spoke too soon, Camoranesi breaks again with the ball and goes past two U.S. players (Clark and Spector) before clipping a pass to the far post which Onyewu clears.
16 mins: Dempsey collects the ball on the left wing, looks up and sends a nice cross-field pass to Altidore, who's open on the U.S. right. Altidore gathers the ball and runs at Grosso before deciding to slide it to his left to Spector, who's making a late run. Spector is summarily dispossessed by Chiellini. I think the U.S. would have been better served with Altidore taking it on or shooting to be honest.
18 mins: The U.S. knock the ball around nicely in midfield before Clark decides to try and thread the eye of a needle. In a plan so cunning, it's not been seen since Tokyo residents decided to fight increased crime by planting more flowers, Clark sends a ball through the middle of the Italian defense to ... absolutely no one.
19 mins: Bornstein gets a yellow out on the left for bringing down Camoranesi, who's looked by far the most dangerous player on the field. Pirlo sends in a dangerous whipping free kick which finds Legrottaglie all alone in the six-yard box and he heads it wide. That was a golden opportunity there and a huge miss.
22 mins: Dempsey is down hurt, he was clattered from behind by Zambrotta after laying off a nice one-touch pass. Play is stopped and the U.S. returns the ball to Italy after the Italians sportingly hoofed it out of play.
25 mins: Great play by Bradley in the middle of the field as he lays a thumping tackle on Pirlo and feeds Donovan. Donovan carries before sliding it back to Bradley, who's got time and space in the Italian penalty area but hits a weak effort straight at Buffon. Promising stuff from the U.S players, who appear to be standing around admiring their handiwork as the Italians counter straightaway. Pirlo slips the ball through to Iaquinta, who's wide open in acres of space but also miles offside.
28 mins: The lively Camoranesi wins a corner. The Italians take it short and Camoranesi curls it to the back post where Legrottaglie heads it down into space but Howard gathers.
29 mins: Another opportunity for the U.S. Donovan carries the ball and sends Altidore clean through -- Altidore has a great chance but decides to try and square it back across to Donovan but his cross is weak and cleared by the Italians. Again, Altidore was too unselfish there -- he seemed to be in two minds there, kind of like Bruce Willis who went from divorcing Demi Moore to shunning monogamy to deciding to remarry.
30 mins: This is end-to-end stuff now. The Italians break and Gilardino has the ball on the edge of U.S. box with only DeMerit to beat. He tries to feint him to his left and take him off the dribble, but Onyewu catches up from behind and takes the ball cleanly off him in the box. Gilardino executes a perfect triple Salchow for good measure, but the ref's not having any of it. Moments later, Pirlo lines up a free kick from 30 yards and line drives a one-hopper that Howard mishandles momentarily, but recovers.
33 mins: RED CARD for Ricardo Clark. Shades of Pablo Mastroeni from 2006. Clark slides in and makes a reckless late challenge on Gattuso. There's no doubt it's a yellow, but it's an absolutely ridiculous decision to give a red for that -- that's shockingly bad, even compared to MLS officiating. Making it even more egregious is the fact that it's Clark's first foul of the day, but even so Clark has to shoulder some of the blame for a pointless late challenge in a nonthreatening position.
35 mins: Another long ball forward from the U.S. looking for Donovan, who's stopped in his tracks by an elbow from Grosso. This is a good opportunity for the U.S. but Donovan sends his free kick about 15 feet wide right. Poor effort there.
38 mins: The Italians put the ball in the net -- well actually Bornstein does, in what would have gone down as an epic blunder -- but fortunately for the U.S., Camoranesi is called for offside as the pass was initially played in.
39 mins: Penalty for the U.S. Feilhaber releases Altidore with a beautiful pass into the Italian box. Altidore turns inside Chiellini, who pulls him down and the ref has no qualms about giving the penalty.
40 mins: GOAL! U.S. 1-0. Donovan slides it home to his right as Buffon dives the wrong way. The U.S. go up despite only having 10 men.
41 mins: The U.S. has its tail up now. Bradley takes a lash from outside the box, a swerving shot with some power that's unfortunately straight at Buffon.
43 mins: Almost an equalizer from Italy as Zambrotta tries a speculative 25-yard shot that goes narrowly over. Nice buildup there as Pirlo played it in to De Rossi at the top of the box, before De Rossi flicked it to Zambrotta.
45 mins: Pirlo releases Grosso down the left and the fullback tries to beat Spector to the byline, but the U.S. defender is up to the task and clears for a corner. The corner doesn't amount to much and there's the whistle.
HALFTIME: U.S. 1-0 Italy.A great first half for the U.S., who showed a lot of energy and confidence and was undoubtedly hard done by with that atrocious red card on Clark. As for Italy, I don't know what Lippi is thinking right now. The Italians spent most of that half trying to attack through the air against the U.S. defense, an odd approach considering it's the U.S.' strong point, not to mention Toni is on the bench. The Italians currently have only one player on the field (Camoranesi) who has the capacity to trouble U.S. defenders with his ability to run at them. They need to get Rossi on the field for the second half. As for the U.S., it's a hard ask for 10 men to hold out for 60-odd minutes, but we'll see.
46 mins: The second half is under way, no changes for either team yet.Grosso with another run down the left and he wins a corner. The first corner is cleared out for yet another corner. Pirlo's inswinger is headed out by Dempsey.
48 mins: De Rossi has the ball at midfield, looks up and chips it forward to Gilardino who heads back to Iaquinta. Iaquinta shows some nimble feet to beat one U.S. defender and tries to wriggle into the box before DeMerit makes a vital challenge.
50 mins: The Italians are continuously being described by commentators as "experienced." Personally, I think it's just a flat-out old lineup and it shows in their lack of energy. They need some infusion of creativity off the bench since right now the Italians look devoid of ideas. Iaquinta had a chance to send Gilardino free with a slide-rule pass but overhits it badly. Leaden foot doesn't even begin to describe the lack of touch on that pass.
52 mins: Altidore earns another free kick as he's brought down by Zambrotta. Another dangerous opportunity for the U.S. but Donovan's cross is low and headed out. Spector's follow-up effort is charged down.
54 mins: Italy continues to press down the U.S. right with Grosso. It seems to be their only outlet right now, but Spector's doing a great job shutting down that flank. A double sub is forthcoming for Italy -- Montolivo for Camoranesi and Rossi for Gattuso.
57 mins: Italy is dominating possession right now, no surprises there given the Azzurri's one-man advantage, but they have yet to create a chance.
58 mins: GOAL U.S. 1-1 Italy. A dagger in the heart of U.S. fans everywhere. Rossi picks up the ball after dispossessing Feilhaber in midfield, strides forward and unleashes a stunning 35-yarder which finds nothing but net. Somewhere far, far, far away in another Galaxy, a cranky Jedi master named Yodarena must be thinking, "Wrong we were about the young Padawan. Recruit harder, him we should."
61 mins: Italy breaks again, and Grosso slides the ball into the inside-right channel for Iaquinta, who runs into the box and turns and hammers a cross but Onyewu clears it, albeit with a shaky miscue.
62 mins: A fleeting chance for Italy as Rossi misses a chance for his second. Pirlo curls a cross to the back of the U.S. area, where Zambrotta heads it down to Rossi. Rossi is wide-open about 12 yards out but blazes his half volley about 20 feet over.
65 mins: The U.S. is bringing on Charlie Davies for Altidore. That's a very strange substitution by Bradley. Why take off Altidore, whose size and speed was giving the Italian defenders all sorts of problems?
66 mins: Iaquinta latches onto a ball in the U.S. box and runs at Onyewu before laying it back to Gilardino, who shows why AC Milan gave up on him by lashing a wild shot that ends up looking more like a wayward cross.
67 mins: It's all Italy now, as Pirlo unleashes a pile driver from outside the box that Howard can only parry straight back out. The ball falls out to Iaquinta, who cuts it back inside Onyewu and with a chance to hammer it home smashes it wide and high.
69 mins: Italy sub -- Luca Toni on for Gilardino, who's been nonexistent. The U.S. needs fresh legs in midfield, it looks gassed and the Italians are having all sorts of time and space.
70 mins: DaMarcus Beasley is getting ready to come on for the U.S.
71 mins: GOAL! ITALY 2-1 U.S. De Rossi picks up a loose ball about 35 yards out in a fairly innocuous position and unleashes a vicious low drive that beats Howard. Looking at replays, it seems his vision was clouded by Onyewu, who probably should have cleared that but whiffed on his attempt. In the meantime, Beasley replaces Feilhaber.
74 mins: Almost a third for Italy. A dangerous whipping corner from Pirlo finds Toni in the 6-yard box, but his glanced header is wide.
75 mins: Pirlo's controlling the tempo of this game now, not surprising given the vast amount of time he's been given on the ball. Can't really blame the U.S. players though, they're clearly tired. Grosso tries to take on Spector again down the right and is yet again repelled.
79 mins: Dempsey tries a speculative shot from about 25 yards out, it's a lazy drifter which Buffon makes a total meal of, applying the famed camera-save technique to it.
80 mins: Bradley sends the ball forward for Davies who holds the ball up and lays it back to Dempsey who chips it into the box towards Donovan. However, Legrottaglie takes a flying leap and climbs all over Donovan. That was a careless challenge, some refs would give a penalty for that and if the ball wasn't about 6 feet over Donovan's head already, it probably would have been given. Even so, the Italians are fortunate to escape with that.
83 mins: Rossi dribbles down the right and wins a corner. Pirlo whips in another dangerous cross, trying to find Chiellini, who heads over.
84 mins: Sacha Kljestan is warming up. In the meantime, Dempsey sends a long ball forward again for Davies but the pass is overhit and goes out of bounds. The Italians try to counter but Onyewu brings down Iaquinta in midfield. Kljestan on for Bornstein.
87 mins: Nice sweeping move from Italy pushing forward down the left, with Grosso sending in a beautiful chip that tees up Toni 6 yards out. The header is weak though and straight at Howard. That should have been three for Italy there.
88 mins: Kljestan almost pulls off a moment of magic, cutting in from the left sideline and curling a 25-yarder just over the bar. That wasn't a bad effort at all, a little unlucky.
89 mins: Beasley earns the U.S. team's first corner with a run down the left. Donovan sends in a great cross which finds Davies wide open in the 6-yard box but Davies' effort is poor and well over.
90 mins: Howard keeps the U.S. in the game. Pirlo slips Rossi free in the box but Howard comes out fast to close him down and block his shot.
92 mins: Another save from Howard. The Italians break as the U.S. is caught with numbers forward. Pirlo threads the ball through the U.S. center backs and finds Toni breaking all alone and one-on-one with the U.S. keeper, who stands his ground and blocks the shot. Good save from Howard, but Toni should have nailed that.
93 mins: GOAL! Italy 3-1 U.S. That man Pirlo again at the heart of things. He waltzes past a tired DeMerit on the sideline and drifts to the byline before cutting the ball back into the box to Rossi, who shows no mercy with a great half-volley finish past Howard who had no chance.
FULL TIME: Italy 3-1 U.S.
Game over. Pirlo ran the show in the second half and obviously Clark's sending off hurt the U.S. Can't really fault the U.S. team too much here, Bradley's men had the better of the chances in the first half and with more assertive finishing from Altidore and Michael Bradley could easily have led by more than one goal.
The second half was all Italy though, the introduction of Rossi and Montolivo was pivotal and the U.S. team ran out of gas, while coach Bradley didn't really seem to have any answers tactically. If not for Howard, the final score could have been uglier -- as is, it's still a harsh score line and not really reflective of the U.S. team's effort. Man of the match for the U.S. was probably Spector shading Donovan, while for Italy, it's a toss-up between Pirlo and Rossi.
The starting lineups have been announced.
For the U.S. it's the lineup I expected:
D: Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bornstein
M: Dempsey, Feilhaber, Clark, Bradley, Donovan
Italy's going with:
M: Gennaro Gattuso, De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo
The referee will be 36-year-old Pablo Pozo from Chile.
Pregame banter (Sunday, June 14)
As the U.S. prepares for its rather tasty matchup against Italy (Monday, 2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN360.com), I'll be here once again with a live play-by-play during the game. But more on that later.
I'll start by briefly addressing the Jermaine Jones situation because some people seem to have misconstrued my earlier thoughts about him.
First, I think it's clear to all and sundry that Jones immediately becomes the top central midfielder in the U.S. pool (assuming the FIFA paperwork goes through smoothly). That much is obvious, and as such, he ranks above Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni in the pecking order.
However, I will reiterate my belief that some fans might be overestimating how much Jones will bring to the table. He undoubtedly enhances the lineup, but at the same time, it's not as if the U.S. is upgrading from, say, Clark to Michael Essien or Marcos Senna. So if people are expecting a world-class holding midfielder who can both break up plays and link the midfield to the forwards, they'll be disappointed, because technique and creative passing are not Jones' strong points. Plus, and we won't really know how big an issue this is until it all shakes out and Jones gets some call-ups, but you also have to consider how his presence may affect team chemistry. In this instance, I'm not talking about chemistry on the pitch, I'm talking about off the field, if Jones' reputation for being "temperamental" holds true.
Anyway, enough about Jones and on to the game against Italy. I think we'll see U.S. coach Bob Bradley opt for a one-striker alignment something along the lines of:
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Attacking midfielder: Benny Feilhaber
Forward: Jozy Altidore
I'm intrigued to see how this game pans out. There's no doubt that Italy took the U.S. lightly before the teams met back in the 2006 World Cup -- and who could blame the Italians after the U.S. team's opening-game debacle against the Czechs? This time around, the Azzurri have been making the right noises, saying they're better prepared and won't underestimate the U.S. It'll also be interesting to see whether the U.S. will come out again with a very physical approach and pressure the Italians on the ball high up the field as they did in '06, when they really troubled Italy initially.
As for Italy, it's not all rosy in its camp with the news that captain Fabio Cannavaro has been ruled out of the game. With backup Nicola Legrottaglie also doubtful, it's likely that Alessandro Gamberini will earn the start. However, that's actually not the good news for the U.S. The good news is that Cannavaro's absence increases the likelihood that the walking defensive liability otherwise known as Liverpool's Andrea Dossena could see some action. Dossena recently mentioned that he would "run to Juve" if the Old Lady was interested in buying him. Not to worry, Dossena, I'm sure that plenty of Liverpool fans will happily drive you to Turin ASAP, free of charge.
Other than that, some interesting subplots for Italy in this game include:
Whom will Italy coach Marcello Lippi deputize as captain for this game? Will it be a wily veteran like Gigi Buffon or Gennaro Gattuso, or will he opt for the cerebral, even-tempered influence of Daniele De Rossi, a mature, serene presence who is in no way likely to get himself sent off? Speaking of De Rossi, now that Brian McBride is gone and McBride clone Brian Ching is out, he must be sorely disappointed.
Will Giuseppe "the U.S. shouldn't chase around 18-year-old players who can't get games for their club team and tell me they want to play for Italy" Rossi get the start at forward, and how will he celebrate if he scores against the U.S.? What's the betting that he channels his inner Bruce Springsteen and rips off his jersey to reveal a T-shirt underneath that says "Born in the USA?"
On the other hand, young starlet Rossi could be distracted by all the transfer rumors linking him to Juventus, which hopes to pair him with new acquisition Diego, the brilliant but enigmatic Brazilian playmaker. However, it's worth noting that Diego's international stock has dropped lately, as he wasn't selected for the Selecao's Confederation Cup roster on the back of a middling season in the Bundesliga. The whispers out of Germany indicate that Diego's form was badly affected by his on/off dalliance with German pop star Sarah Connor. Personally, I think the real question is, what did Sarah's son John and her ex-boyfriend, Kyle Reese, think about Diego's shabby treatment of her?
I'll be back Monday when the game starts.