The U.S. men’s national team end their 2018 campaign with a friendly against Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. ET.
This is a clash between two teams who failed to reach the 2018 World Cup and have now turned to youth to try and turn their programs around.
[ MORE: How will USA line up v Italy? ]
It has been a strange year for everyone connected with the USMNT, as interim head coach Dave Sarachan has now been in charge for 13 months but still no new permanent coach had been announced and the U.S. were humbled 3-0 by a much-changed England at Wembley last Thursday.
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Roberto Mancini and the Azzurri are the final test of a gruelling few months for the USMNT, as they’ve now faced Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and England in the fall, winning just one of those games as several youngsters have been given the chance to shine but there’s still no long-term plan.
Christian Pulisic is back in the U.S. setup and will be looking to lead a team which has an average age of just under 24 to an upset of No. 19 ranked Italy. Mancini has sent home several of his more experienced players ahead of this game and will give plenty of youngsters a chance, including teenager Sandro Tonali who Italy have high hopes for as a deep-lying playmaker.
[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]
In team news Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre all left the USMNT squad over the past few days due to injury, but Josh Sargent is fit to play against Italy as the Werder Bremen forward didn’t feature against England due to a small knock. Sarachan has said there will be plenty of changes to his lineup, and it will be intriguing to see if the USMNT players who will be involved in the MLS Cup playoffs next week will feature.
Pro Soccer Talk will be at the Luminus Arena in Genk and you can follow live updates on Italy v. USA here.
What they’re saying…
Dave Sarachan on Italy and possible USMNT lineup: “We respect them. It will be an important test for our guys. We will have a number of changes in the lineup and it will be one of those tests that will go a long way down the road. We are excited about it and it should be a good night.”
Roberto Mancini on giving youngsters a chance: “We are working, trying to renovate the Nazionale with young players and a different tactical approach. We need to get to know them better, to see them in action. Hopefully, many young players will get a chance to feature, as that’ll mean we’ve got a bright future ahead of us. I think there are many talented players out there, they just need to gain some experience.”
This is a very tough game to call. There’s no doubt that the USMNT youngsters will want to end a tough year on a high as they try to impress the incoming coach (expected to be Gregg Berhalter) but Italy’s youngsters will want to grab their chance to impress too. Pulisic could be the difference in this game and I’m going for a 1-1 draw in Genk as Sarachan will leave his time in charge of the USMNT with his head held high. A draw would be a very respectable end to a tough 12 months for the U.S. program. 2019 can’t come soon enough as they plan for the long road ahead and a shot at redemption.