KENYA BROWN - Sunday, June 14, 2020
In what could have been a lopsided game, the United States national team left with the respect of their opponents as they narrowly lost to Italy at Estadio Olimpico in Rome.
After a humiliating loss to Czechoslovakia four days ago in their Group A opener, it seemed like the Americans were like lambs being led to slaughter as they headed to the Italian capital to face the host and one of the World Cup favorites. The atmosphere on the streets among the Italian supporters appeared relaxed as many thought the game would be a piece of cake. There were even reports of people standing along the roadside holding up both hands not to wave hello to their guests from across the Atlantic Ocean, but to indicate their prediction for the final scoreline (10 goals, perhaps more).
There was no doubt that this group of players was about to literally face the all-star team of Serie A. The likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Donadoni, and Gianluca Vialli would strike fear in anyone looking at them from the other side of the field. But there was no turning back now as the boys entered the lion's den for the clash.
U.S. head coach Bob Gansler made several changes to the team in hopes of frustrating the Italians and pull off a shock result. He elected to go with a very defensive 5-3-2 formation, bringing in John Doyle, Marcelo Balboa, and Jimmy Banks for their first games in the tournament. Mike Windischmann and Desmond Armstrong kept their places in the backline. John Harkes, Tab Ramos, and Paul Caligiuri started in the midfield. Up top, Peter Vermes and Bruce Murray kept their places while Eric Wynalda served his one-game suspension after his red card in the previous game.
It did not take very long for the host to open the scoring when Giuseppe Giannini finished off a one-two passing play with Vialli to fire his shot past Tony Meola 11 minutes into the contest.
From that point, the floodgates should have been wide open, but the Americans stayed very much in the game, leaving the Italians frustrated throughout the night. No matter which way they came, the Azzurri could not find a way to get through the backline. Their own supporters, who were cheering them on at the time, started to turn against them.
The Italians had an opportunity to double their lead after the half-hour mark when referee Edgardo Codesal pointed to the spot for a penalty. However, Vialli failed to convert as his shot came crashing off the base of the post.
As the game carried on, the U.S. team started to build confidence. Perhaps there was a chance, even the slightest, to come away with a point that would send the soccer world in shock. And they were given that moment in the 68th minute after Murray was fouled by Riccardo Ferri.
Twenty-two yards from the goal and an opportune chance for an equalizer, Murray sent his blistering free-kick towards the goal. Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga was able to stop the shot, but the danger was not averted as the ball was free in the six-yard box. Vermes, who kept running into the area had the chance to be the hero as he pounced on the rebound.
The forward fired a low shot at goal, but there was not enough momentum to push it across the line as the ball ricocheted between Zenga's legs, just stopping it short of its final destination.
In the end, the result may have been a disappointment for the U.S., but to hold the host to a single goal and be competitive throughout the 90 minutes and earn the respect of their opponents afterward should boost the confidence of the team.
Now, it's back to Florence where the Americans will finish out group play with a game against Austria.