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By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
U.S. can take big leap forward against Italy

Jurgen Klinsmann has been able to assemble the top American players just a few times.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jurgen Klinsmann understands the challenge the U.S. men's national soccer team faces at Italy on Wednesday. He knows a loss will do little harm and the experience against the four-time World Cup champion will be invaluable. At this point in his tenure, the friendly is still about the future.

Although the U.S. squad can lean on its three ties in its last six games with Italy, including the memorable 2006 World Cup match in Germany, conquering one of the world's best on their own turf is as daunting as it gets.

Just seven months into his tenure, Klinsmann has been able to assemble the top American players just a few times. Against Italy, he will again be shorthanded, with Landon Donovan among those absent due to illness or injury.

Italy has owned the all-time series against the United States with seven wins and three draws in 10 games. The U.S. squad has not scored against Italy on Italian soil since 1934 - it has only played there twice since - and that came in a 7-1 loss.

Klinsmann wants the United States to face these challenges. That's why the U.S. squad already played matches at France - a 1-0 defeat - and Slovenia - a 3-2 win. Italy is just another rung up the ladder.

"Our roster is highly competitive," Klinsmann said, "and ready to give (Italy) a real fight. I'm excited about ... challenging a world-class team like former World Cup winner Italy on their home soil."

The U.S. squad started this year with wins over Venezuela and Panama, but those were without most of the team's European-based internationals, including goalie Tim Howard, attacker Clint Dempsey and Italy-based midfielder Michael Bradley.

Although Scotland and Brazil will visit the United States in May, providing more tests, playing Italy on the road is "very important," according to Klinsmann.

"That's when you really get players out of their comfort zone and they have to deal with a difficult environment on a physical and psychological level," the former Germany World Cup winner and coach.

It's a snapshot of the atmosphere in major tournaments, specifically the World Cup, where Klinsmann and the United States will ultimately be judged.

The last time the U.S. squad played Italy in 2009, it lost 3-1 at the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Just days later, the Americans pieced together one of the biggest wins in their history.

Thanks to an improbable scenario unfolding, the Americans defeating Egypt, 3-0, and Brazil defeating Italy, 3-0, the U.S. squad advanced from group play in the event to face Euro 2008 champion Spain in the semifinals.

In one of the lasting memories of former boss Bob Bradley's era, Jozy Altidore and Dempsey scored to lead the United States to the final with a 2-0 win over the No. 1 team in the world.

The United States surrendered a two-goal lead against Brazil in the final and lost 3-2, but the win over Spain, which later won the World Cup in 2010, proved the U.S. squad was capable of more than just respectable performances against top opponents.

Italy won its most recent World Cup in 2006, when it edged a Klinsmann-coached Germany on its own soil with two goals in the closing minutes of extra time in the semifinals. Italy defeated France on penalty kicks in the final.

This time, Klinsmann gets a shot at revenge against Italy on its home soil. A challenge magnified because he no longer holds the reins of a three-time World Cup winner in Germany, but of a country now ranked just 31st in the world.

Should the United States beat Italy, this will not just be a friendly. It will not just be a gauge of where the U.S. squad currently stands.

It will, instead, make Feb. 29 a defining date in the infancy of Klinsmann's reign, and be a big leap forward for the United States.

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