U.S. player ratings vs. Italy
Tim Howard's early reaction save from Thiago Motta set the stage
U.S. center backs had trouble in first half but improved in the second
Midfielder Michael Bradley had one of his finest performances for the U.S.
U.S. player ratings Wednesday vs. Italy (scale of 1-10)
GK, Tim Howard, 7 -- His sparkling reaction save prevented things from going awry in the game's first five minutes, and how important did that become about 85 minutes later? Otherwise, Howard was Mr. Surehands in dealing with several shots and crosses of moderate, but not overwhelming, danger. Howard also spent less time than usual Wednesday barking at his defenders, which seems like a better way to manage things.
D, Steve Cherundolo, 6 -- Italy generally aimed its attack through the middle, or right over the top. So on a night when U.S. central areas became hustling, busy and sometimes chaotic places, Cherundolo's right side was far less pressed. He did get plenty of assistance from right-sided midfielder Danny Williams, which helped. Cherundolo's passing was typically smooth and he participated in a couple of attacks that led to U.S. crosses.
D, Carlos Bocanegra, 5 -- These were two very different halves for both U.S. center backs. They struggled early with Alessandro Matri's darting runs and Andrea Pirlo's pinpoint deliveries, dropped so often and precisely into troublemaking spots. But the U.S. moved its defensive line back a few yards after the break, which made things far more comfortable for the central pairing. Bocanegra was a big figure late, Johnny on the Spot quite a few times in blocking shots, intercepting crosses or clearing danger.
D, Clearance Goodson, 5 -- The defending itself wasn't bad but, as with Bocanegra, the anticipation was lacking in the first 45 minutes, when the U.S. defense was beaten repeatedly over the top or through the gaps. They managed to catch Italy offside numerous times, but most calls were by razor thin margins. Later, Goodson was unimpeachable in the air, which came in handy in waning moments as more aerial encroaches came the U.S. way. Another nice moment: watching the veteran offer some calming, encouraging words to young Williams late, as things got hot and hectic.
D, Fabian Johnson, 6 -- Spent a good deal of the afternoon dealing with rampaging Italian right back Christian Maggio, but Johnson did manage to move into the home team's end with some regularity. His attacking pushes weren't always as fruitful or expertly timed as Cherundolo's on the other side, and his relationship with Brek Shea was predictably undeveloped. Still, his debut at left back wasn't bad at all, especially considering the test that Italy offers. Johnson's confidence grew as the game went on and his cross turned into Clint Dempsey's massive goal. Never mind that Johnson was caught out of position here and there; that stuff can be taught. Bottom line: Johnson established himself as a starting candidate at fullback, and that's important for Jurgen Klinsmann's side.
M, Maurice Edu, 6 -- The Rangers man was not always as "clean" as he needed to be coming out of the back, but his tackling was rock-solid and the positioning was usually accurate. Playing alongside Michael Bradley in a 4-4-1-1 (it may have been listed as a 4-2-3-1, but the U.S. clearly defended in two organized blocks of four) Edu looked far more comfortable than in some previous matches under Klinsmann when he was tasked with playing a little further up the field.
M, Michael Bradley, 8 -- The busiest American midfielder was strong all night, in all areas, and continues to make it difficult for Klinsmann to leave him out of the starting lineup. His useful connection with Clint Dempsey (who played nominally behind Jozy Altidore) always gave the U.S. offense something to work with, and he generally moved into offensive areas to better effect than Edu. If Bradley's passing wasn't overly inventive, it was consistently on target. Perhaps most importantly, Bradley was the best U.S. player over the final 15-20 minutes, contributing to the historic night with several important interventions and through composed management. All in all, an impressive evening for the man who wasn't getting many chances initially under Klinsmann.
M, Danny Williams, 5 -- His latest night in the U.S. shirt landed somewhere between "just OK" and "a little too quiet." Stationed as a right midfielder, Williams did more than left-sided counterpart Brek Shea in helping on defense. But on offense Williams never made a nuisance of himself in any way to Italians, and that's not good enough. By the end, his obvious fitness became a plus as he continued to scrap and put in the hard work right up until the end. Any manager will say, if you can't "make" the game, at least work hard. He did.
M, Brek Shea, 6 -- An up and down match for the young winger, a late call-up into camp who certainly didn't look out of his element against a world class opponent. On the other hand, he failed to find enough ways to influence matters. For instance, he needed to do better with a 10th-minute crack from 20 yards. But his defensive tracking was attentive, and he did supply a couple of crosses in a game that didn't include many from the U.S. side. The FC Dallas man wasn't making as many runs after the break and left in the 73rd minute in favor of Sacha Kljestan.
M, Clint Dempsey, 8 -- If the United States was going to find a goal in this one, you knew Clint Dempsey's finger prints would be on it somewhere. The Fulham man (But for how much longer?) is starting off 2012 on the national team scene the same way he ended 2011, finding good spots, making things happen, running the U.S. attack with a balanced variety of passing and dribbling. And, of course, he is providing the all-important finishing flourish. The man has scored more important goals -- this was just a friendly, after all -- but his well-aimed strike in Genoa will surely take its place among the most memorable.
F, Jozy Altidore, 6 -- As usual, some good and some bad for the young striker who was asked to play more or less on his own up front (never easy) against one of the world's best defenses. Maybe the best defense. He failed in a couple of the early physical battles, not surprising since he doesn't typically encounter the same force in the more technical Dutch league. But Altidore adjusted and, by the second half, his hold-up play was far more effective. The layoff on Dempsey's goal was ushered carefully in the perfect spot.
M, Sacha Kljestan, 4 -- Upon 73rd-minute arrival for the tiring Shea, Kljestan was beaten immediately in a moment of potentially devastating inattention. So his night started badly and never got on the right track. In fairness, it really wasn't a situation suited for the Anderlecht man, another late call into the team as a replacement for someone injured or ill.
M, Jonathan Spector, 7 -- Unlike Kljestan, Spector seemed to immediately understand the game he was just thrown into, seemed to know exactly what was called for. This was a big ask, coming on in the 77th minute (for left back Fabian Johnson) as part of a defense under pressure. But Spector handled with well. His solid shift included three or four brave blocks, and he can feel good about his overall defensive work.
F, Terrence Boyd, 6 -- Say this for Klinsmann: the always-positive U.S. manager has ample confidence in the young Dortmund reserve, inserting the kid in the 79th minute for Altidore, never mind the lack of extensive Bundesliga action. Like the hungry young pup that he is, Boyd began throwing himself around actively right away. It wasn't a time to show off his technical skills, with the game at full ebb of intensity, and yet Boyd did manage some nifty holdup work here and there.
F, Edson Buddle, NR -- Entered during injury time for a tired Dempsey, just a device to waste a few more second as much as anything.