The US Men’s National Team faces off against Italy on Tuesday evening in Genk, Belgium in their final match of 2019 and likely the last with an interim manager. Both squads will be eager for a win after disappointing results in the past week and each has important steps to take on their road back from ruin.
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 20th
Time: 2:30 PM ET
TV Channel: FS1, UniMas, UDN
Streaming: fuboTV (Sign up for a free trial)
A year ago, both of these national teams were reeling from their respective failures to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Now they’re attempting to pick up the pieces and get back on track.
Italy on the Rise
Italy, it could be said, has already righted the ship. Manager Roberto Mancini – hired before the World Cup – has had ample time to set his strategy and ingrain himself in the day-to-day tedium of the high-pressure turnaround job. He’s no stranger to high expectations, having led Manchester City to their highest Premier League finish in his first year as manager and winning the title a mere two seasons later in 2012.
The Azzurri only just missed out on the final four of the inaugural UEFA Nations League after finishing two points behind Group A3 winners Portugal. Italy is undoubtedly rueing the missed opportunity, however, as a dominant first hour on Saturday produced no goals to speak of, and gave way to an insipid and fatiguing game of kickball. Regardless, this is incredible progress for Italy only a short time after their gut-wrenching end to 2017, and with a contract that only runs through 2020, we should expect Mancini to iterate rapidly to unlock his perfect line-up. Giorgio Chiellini along with Ciro Immobile, Jorginho, Lorenzo Insigne, and Alessandro Florenzi all stayed home when the remaining squad flew to Belgium, as the manager attempts to introduce fresh faces in a non-competitive fixture.
US Remains In Purgatory
The US, meanwhile, is in a more stagnant state, having gone more than a year without a full-time manager. USMNT fans hopeful for a new appointment after the loss in Trinidad last October were sorely disappointed, and have been ever since. The federation first had to go through a tumultuous and contentious election to replace the status quo-man, Sunil Gulati. Then, USSF President-elect Carlos Cordeiro embarked on a world tour to get the US back in the World Cup – via hosting rights to the 2026 tournament. Once that was secured and champagne bottles were popped, the expectation was that the US would hire a cast-off manager as soon as the World Cup ended and supply skyrocketed. Still, there was no appointment. First, US Soccer wanted to hire a Technical Director, who would be in charge of hiring the next USMNT manager. That man was Ernie Stewart, but given his club duties at the Philadelphia Union and the evidently arduous process of moving to Chicago, he was given several months from time of hire to his start date, again delaying the hiring process. Now, Stewart is supposedly in full stride and prepared to hire a coach – likely Gregg Berhalter of the Columbus Crew. But due to MLS Playoffs, that too has been delayed until at least the end of the month, if not the year.
All of that reveals the lack of progress on the US Men’s side. Interim manager Dave Sarachan has filled in beautifully, giving playing time to a young core hungry for glory and eager to earn respect. He has done more with less direction than Bruce Arena could provide a lost football fan on the streets of Moscow. And despite not having a de jure voice in the direction of the USMNT’s future, he has made an impact since day one on the job. The renewed vibe in camp is not necessarily optimistic, but it’s confident, yet measured, understanding the weight that this cycle bears as well as the incredible work to be done.
The tactics have been exciting at times and frustrating at others, with the most recent match against England being emblematic of the latter. The Three Lions, fresh off a World Cup Semifinal, ran circles around the US just days before advancing to the UEFA Nations final four. They got in behind, worked through the middle, and snuffed out attacks in the back. The US lacked discipline and cohesiveness, giving away the ball too easily in the middle of the pitch while also coordinating poorly on the defensive side of the ball. Sarachan understands this and has done a good job of communicating what needs to improve, but his weakness has consistently been in instituting those prescribed improvements.
And that’s likely why this is his last match. He’ll always be known for introducing the likes of Timothy Weah from PSG, Weston McKennie from Schalke, and Tyler Adams from New York Red Bulls. This core, along with Christian Pulisic, is expected to be the bedrock of the USMNT for the next decade, and Sarachan gave most of them their first senior team cap. It’s nothing to scoff at – an act his predecessor was loathed to do, which quite possibly also spelled his downfall.
Italy-US Keys to the Game
Tuesday evening will be a good final test for Sarachan, in the first time, these two teams have met since 2012 when the US shocked Italy with a 1-0 win. This contest, while not officially competitive, will have high enough stakes for each team internally that there should be plenty of excitement. Italy, anchored by Leonardo Bonnucci and his backline, likes to sit back and absorb pressure. The US has preferred to pressure high, albeit sometimes against better judgment. A team with the quality of Italy and a superstar in Marco Verratti could well tear open the US rearguard on the counter and give rotational US goalkeeper nightmares. The Yanks’ main task tonight will be to venture forward with precision and discipline, rather than reckless abandon. For both squads, the lessons from experimentation in Genk will be crucial to their revitalization efforts. If, that is, those lessons are ever applied.
How to Watch
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