"The catcher hits for .318 and catches every day// The pitcher puts religion first and rests on holidays." -- Piazza New York Catcher, Belle and Sebastian.
Maybe it was business as usual inside the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, Italy for the U.S./Italy Leap Day friendly.
On couches across America, things were slightly ... weird.
Call it the repeated airings of "Leap Dave Williams" on USA all day.
Was that Italy wearing ... white ... at home? The Azzurri?
Why was the U.S. looking, as my Internet amigo Erik pointed out, looking like they were doing their best scrappy college point guard impression with white undershirts under their navy kits? (Or as others pointed out, the Nazi kits in the 'Escape to Victory' movie, aside from the socks.)
And what the heck was Mike Piazza doing in the stands, sans mustache!
A strange day -- without Mario Balotelli in the mix, no less -- turned into a historic day for the U.S. notching its first victory over Italy in a history spanning back to 1934 thanks to, who else? Clint Dempsey.
Hard, as usual with friendlies, to get a true gauge on just exactly what this result means. Italy seemed to play the game at a snail's pace, context to let Andrea Pirlo try to thread in a pass here-or-there. It wasn't until the Azzurri went down 1-0 that they seemed to ratchet up the attack, which to that point could be summed up with Alessandro Matri being flagged offside.
The U.S. did, however, look organized and composed. More importantly, up a goal they didn't lose their cool and ground out a 1-0 result. Again, grinding out results against Antigua and Barbuda isn't exactly the goal at this point, but it's what the U.S. has facing it in the immediate future of marathon CONCACAF qualification.
The pragmatic (buzzword) 4-4-2-ish the the U.S. played against Italy might be boring and soccer's missionary position, but it seems to suit the team in the long term. You could even make the argument with fewer teams in Europe (or elsewhere) it might behoove the U.S. to stick with this, over the more in vogue 4-2-3-1 formations since teams aren't used to facing it any more.
Still, whichever way you want to look at it, Italy is still Italy and a team that didn't give up a goal at home in Euro 2012 qualification. Even for a friendly it's not worth diminishing the result. It's probably not worth trumpeting either from on high either.
That said, chances are we probably saw the high-water mark for the U.S. in 2012 and for the brief Jurgen Klinsmann era as a whole.
* Biggest talking point is going to be Michael Bradley and his commanding, box-to-box, performance. Not sure how much of this is because he's playing for Chievo Verona or since Jermaine Jones -- who gobbles up the ball a lot when he plays for the U.S. -- was out injured, but the No. 6 shirt was excellent throughout. Maurice Edu didn't do a ton, but he was a nice complement to Bradley otherwise.
* Jozy Altidore was the bad Jozy Altidore in the first half, meaning tumbling over at a sneeze from the Italian defenders. The second half he held his ground, won Fabian Johnson's cross and laid it off to Dempsey for the game-winner. He's still the best option the U.S. has at forward, but it wasn't a coincidence he looked more active when Dempsey pulled up closer to goal.
* We're all running out of words for Dempsey. Please stay healthy, Deuce.
* Nobody reading this cares too much about Italy, but the U.S. certainly did the Azzurri and Cesare Prandelli a favor today because there's no way he heads to the Euro without Balotelli or with the pint-sized Sebastian Giovinco has his No. 1 option. The way Italy played Wednesday went right into the U.S.'s hands. It almost felt a lot like the U.S. game in the Confederations Cup against Spain where they scored a goal and hung on, blocking a bunch of shots in the process, namely Jonathan Spector. Nothing exactly revolutionary via Klinsmann.
* Hard to muster up too much vitriole, despite the past, with Italy considering the Azzurri played with almost zero emotion until it was almost over.
* If there's going to be an issue for Klinsmann down the road in two years, but going to have to wait and see if old hands Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra as still capable of starting at the international level.
* Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler (perhaps Eric Lichaj, too) could be a fun little battle at the black hole that is traditionally left back for the U.S.
* On a great night otherwise, Sacha Kljestan probably didn't win any brownie points in the eyes of Klinsmann in a brief 20 minute cameo.
* Is it wrong to think, with the bulk with a starting XI comprised solely of players playing professionally in Europe, that the intimidation factor for American players isn't what it once was.
And by same token, in a weird way it's probably tougher on these pros to go to a place like Guatemala in the sweltering heat of summer than a nice, quaint European ground against a disinterested Italian crowd?
* Took a swipe at Taylor Twellman yesterday, but credit is due for his solid performance on the mic for ESPN, as he didn't talk over the game.
* How about that Clint Dempsey, huh? Should we mention him again?
Nice, no, great result. Overall a fairly forgettable match, as far as the actual game went, but it was a solid, professional and performance ... one that was revenge for Brian McBride's forehead.
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