The United States men’s national team end an up-and-down year by taking on Italy in a soccer friendly matchup in the Luminus Arena in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday (2:45 PM ET, live on FS1, Unimás).
This year has been all about rebuilding following the United States’ surprise failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Results are taking somewhat of a back seat to the task of blooding the next generation of players who will lead the team through the next four-year cycle.
There have been a few solid results along the way. The US held World Cup winners France to a 1-1 draw in a pre-tournament friendly in June, secured the same scoreline against a good Peru side last month and also defeated Mexico 1-0 in September. It must, however, be noted that their last seven matches have yielded just one win, two draws and four defeats.
The latest ended in a 0-3 defeat to England at Wembley on Thursday. Their hosts were two goals to the good inside the opening 30 minutes and added another later in the second half to round off a pretty comprehensive defeat, in which the USMNT were comfortably out-shot and out-possessed. There were flashes of individual talent but little concrete on a collective level.
That has been the case in quite a few of the team’s recent friendlies, and raises some questions as to whether this process of generational turnover is being managed sufficiently well to bear long-term fruit. A full 22 players have debuted under the interim charge of Dave Sarachan but the lack of clear direction has reduced the utility of his 11 matches at the helm.
The feeling persists that the USMNT would have benefited from the swifter appointment of a new permanent head coach capable of implementing his own ideas. A number of players said similar things following the defeat to England. Whoever the next man is has some good young and mid-twenties talent to work with. All that is now needed is a clearly defined approach to bring structure to their development.
Italy also surprisingly missed out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup and likewise find themselves in a period of restructuring and reassessment. Roberto Mancini was brought in as the new head coach in May and is still searching for a profitable way forward given the players available to him. He is known as a coach who often puts first emphasis on defence, and that has been evident in his matches in charge to date.
After a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in his debut match and then a 1-3 defeat to France in his second, Italy’s six subsequent fixtures have yielded three 1-1 draws, one goalless draw, a 1-0 win and a 0-1 defeat. The goalless draw came at home to Portugal on Saturday in a result that confirmed their visitors as winners of their UEFA Nations League group but also meant that Italy will finish second, therefore avoiding relegation.
Mancini afterwards expressed his pleasure at his side’s strong performance during the first half, in which Ciro Immobile missed a couple of very presentable chances, which he took as an indication that they are steadily improving. He will now likely use Tuesday’s match as an opportunity to field some of the younger members of his squad, including potential debutants Moise Kean, Sandro Tonali and Stefano Sensi.
This is not a prime generation of Italian talent, and recent reports suggest that Mancini has begun to scout some Argentinian-born players of Italian heritage in a bid to add further options to a squad that already includes a couple of Brazilian-born players in the form of the Chelsea pair of Jorginho and Emerson Palmieri.
There is, though, enough quality there to believe that Italy will be capable of emerging victorious on Tuesday. A more experienced Team USA side actually recorded a 1-0 win when these sides last met in 2012, but while this meeting is likely to be a similarly low-scoring affair, it is the Italians who can be expected to come out on top.
Our Preview’s Italy vs U.S. Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
- Although the top legal USA-facing online sportsbooks have yet to post all their odds on this game, if any at all, the type of wager we would be looking at in this match would be along the lines of betting on Italy to win in a match featuring under 2.5 goals.