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Three things we learned: Italy v. USMNT

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GENK, Belgium — The U.S. men’s national team lost 1-0 to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to finish off its 2018 schedule with a defeat, as they conceded in the 94th minute.

[ MORE: Sarachan out as USMNT head coach ]

Matteo Politano struck with 30 seconds left to condemn the USMNT to a second-straight defeat of this international break, as they closed out the calendar year with a disappointing performance and, eventually, defeat.

[ MORE: Pulisic on captaincy, Dortmund future

Dave Sarachan named the youngest U.S. lineup in the modern era (since 1990) with an average age of 22 years and 71 days, while Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in that era. Italy’s team was a mixture of youth and experience as Ethan Horvath made several fine stops but couldn’t preserve the shutout for the USMNT.

Here’s what we learned from a tight encounter in Belgium.


HORVATH, PULISIC, ADAMS STAND TALL

Three of the USMNT’s standout performers in Genk were captain Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. The former looked on a level of his own among players wearing a U.S. jersey, buzzing around the Italian defense and trying to make things happen. A superb run and cross down the left and then a lovely scooped pass, both to Josh Sargent, showcased his quality on the ball. The only problem for Pulisic was that he didn’t see enough of it. With long balls pumped up to him, Pulisic didn’t win many aerial duels against Leonardo Bonucci but his best work was done dropping off Josh Sargent and picking passes.

At the other end of the pitch Horvath stood tall to deny Italy’s captain Bonucci a clear goal, tipped another dipping effort over and then pushed a dangerous cross in the box away right before half time. And in the second half Horvath saved with his feet as Kevin Lasagna was clean through on goal, pushed Vincenzo Grifo’s shot wide and denied Lasagna again. The Club Brugge stopper enhanced his chances of challenging Brad Guzan and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 jersey, and a year after his horror mistake allowed Portugal to score in Sarachan’s first friendly in charge, Horvath took his second chance and deserved a clean sheet.

In midfield Tyler Adams was brave on the ball in front of the back three, tried to get things going in attack and was the most composed U.S. player on the pitch. The New York Red Bulls midfield, still a teenager, will no doubt be a big part of this team moving forward and he, Pulisic (obviously) and Horvath proved they will be in many USMNT squads to come. The rest struggled a little.


YOUNGSTERS OVERWHELMED

When you name the youngest USMNT lineup in modern history, you’d expect a few bumps in the road during the game. That is exactly what happened. A back three of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, plus Shaq Moore playing out of position at left wing-back, was undone by simple long balls over the top as the USMNT dropped deeper and deeper throughout the game. The U.S. only had 26.5 percent possession and were happy to sit deep and try to hit Italy on the break, just like they did against France in Lyon.

Unlike the game against England last week, this was nowhere near a full-strength USMNT lineup and you could make an argument that only two players (Adams and Pulisic) would be regular starters moving forward.

The likes of Zimmerman, Long, Moore and Cannon were decent enough and got plenty of the reps with the USMNT under pressure for most of the game. One thing is now for sure, whoever is in charge for the January camp and beyond: experimenting needs to stop. The past 13 months has shown us what over 50 players can do. Now a permanent coach needs to select his best squad and work with them each camp moving forward.


SARACHAN’S REIGN SUMMED UP IN 90 MINUTES

Dave Sarachan’s record after 12 games in charge of the USMNT reads 3-5-4, as he set his team up for the draw against Italy but didn’t get it.

Just like they’ve done against top teams in the past, and they did against France in Lyon back in June, the U.S. sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to grab a clean sheet. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t work, but it could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Sarachan’s young team.

The past 13 months has seen him steady the ship after the nightmare of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but in truth there are still more questions than answers when it comes to what is next for the U.S.

Sarachan has now handed debuts to 23 players, more than any other U.S. manager in the modern era, and his task was to try and restore pride in the program after the World Cup qualifying debacle. He may have done a bit of that, mostly thanks to putting his faith in youth, but the U.S. has pretty much stood still in 2018. Some players have taken their chances, others haven’t and, perhaps most importantly, the USMNT still don’t have a permanent head coach.

That is the biggest issue of all, but that is no longer Sarachan’s problem.


How will USMNT line up v Italy?

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The U.S. men’s national team play Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to end their 2018 campaign.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

Over his 13-month spell in charge interim head coach Dave Sarachan has introduced more debutants than any other USMNT head coach in history in their first 11 games at the helm, and he is expected to give a few more youngsters a chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre are all out of the squad due to injury, so Sarachan has 23 players to choose from.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has hinted at a much-changed lineup for the Azzurri, so we could see the U.S. experiment a little in what is expected to be Sarachan’s final game in charge before a new permanent head coach is put in charge.

Below we take a look at a few options for Sarachan at Luminus Arena on Tuesday.


Option 1: Possible USMNT lineup (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Moore — Carter-Vickers — Long — Villafana —

—- Acosta —- Adams —- Gall —- 

—- Weah —- Sargent —- Pulisic —-


Option 2: Possible USMNT lineup (3-4-2-1) 

—- Horvath —-

—- Carter-Vickers —- Long —- Brooks —-

—- Moore —- Adams —- Delgado —- Acosta —-

—- Pulisic —- Lletget —-

—– Sargent —–


Evaluation

Sarachan talked up Evan Horvath last week and it would be cool to see the youngster who plays in Belgium for Club Brugge get another shot to play for his national team in Belgium. We know what Brad Guzan can do, so why not give Horvath some minutes? In defense, the lack of another left back leaves Sarachan with a problem. Does he play Jorga Villafana for the second time in a few days ahead of his monster trip back to the West Coast to play for Portland in the MLS Cup conference final? Probably not. Yedlin could slot over to left back, or maybe Sarachan switches to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation and has someone like Acosta or Adams who can get up and down the flank. Ahead of their Eastern Conference final showdown, giving Guzan, Aaron Long and Tyler Adams a rest may also be beneficial too.

In midfield Tyler Adams, Lletget and Delgado should all get a run out after not starting against England, while up top Josh Sargent is no longer an injury doubt so Christian Pulisic could support him and Tim Weah in attack with Bobby Wood given a rest. I’d go with Option 2 from above and play as many players who didn’t start or feature against England at Wembley as possible. At this point, get as many players international experience and hand over the reins to the next man (ahem, Gregg Berhalter).

VAR to be used in Italy v. USA friendly

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UEFA has selected the friendly between Italy and the U.S. men’s national team on Tuesday to test out VAR.

What could possibly go wrong?

[ MORE: USMNT lack direction ]

As European soccer’s governing body works towards using Video Assistant Referees throughout its competitions over the next few years, the game between Italy and the USMNT will be key in helping UEFA officials try out the process.

In a statement on UEFA’s website on Monday, they confirmed that VAR will be in use for the friendly in RKC Genk’s Luminus Arena in Belgium.

Following the UEFA Executive Committee decision to introduce Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League and the plans to subsequently extend the use of VAR at the final tournament of UEFA EURO 2020, in the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League, and in the 2021 UEFA Nations League finals, UEFA will conduct VAR tests at selected matches.

The upcoming friendly between Italy and USA on Tuesday 20 November 2018 at 20:45CET in Genk, Belgium has been selected as a match in which VAR will be tested. There will be no impact on the multilateral running order. In case of a VAR review process by the match officials, a dedicated VAR graphic will be implemented on the multilateral feed by the host broadcaster. In addition, a message will be displayed via Web CIS to inform broadcasters about the ongoing referee decision-making process.

Although the MLS players on the USMNT roster will be use to VAR, as will the Italian players as Serie A has introduced the system, there will be a few on the field who have yet to play in an environment where VAR is used week in, week out.

With the Premier League announcing last week that it will introduce VAR for the 2019-20 season, UEFA is now stepping up its testing so they aren’t too far behind.

The details given ahead of this test also give a few indications as to how UEFA plans to use the system, with graphics on the main screens informing everyone inside the stadium what is going on.

Davide Astori’s shirt retired by former clubs

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Tributes continue to pour in for Davide Astori after his tragic death at the weekend.

The 31-year-old captain of Fiorentina was found dead in the team hotel on Sunday morning ahead of their Serie A game against Udinese, with the Italian international defender reported to have suffered a cardiac arrest in his sleep.

On Tuesday it was announced by both Cagliari and Fiorentina that the No.13 jersey he wore will be retired as a mark of respect.

Astori played 178 times for Cagliari and made 109 appearances for Fiorentina, while he also played 14 times for Italy over the past six years.

All games in Italy’s top-flight were canceled on Sunday after the tragic news arrived, while Astori’s body will arrive in Florence on Wednesday at the Italian national team training center for people to pay their respects to him.

Ahead of all UEFA Champions League and Europa League games this week there will be a minute’s silence to honor Astori, while Italian soccer is in mourning following the loss of an instrumental figure for Fiorentina who was also a mainstay in the Italian national team squads.

Gabbiadini: “Football is like the open sea… you can’t ever relax”

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Manolo Gabbiadini has a way with words as well as scoring goals galore.

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The Italian international striker, 25, has scored five times in his first three games in England since joining Southampton from Napoli in January for $19 million.

He’s been a revelation.

Gabbiadini scored twice in Saints’ heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Manchester United in the EFL Cup final at Wembley last weekend and had another perfectly good goal incorrectly ruled out for offside (he would have scored the first-ever hat trick in League Cup final history) when the score was 0-0 early in the game.

Reflecting on his opening four weeks in England which has seen him prasied heavily by Jose Mourinho, his own manager Claude Puel and become an instant hero with Southampton’s fans, the predatory striker is trying to stay level-headed.

“In my case the adventure has started well, but I, by nature, always keep my feet on the ground. Football really is like the open sea. There are moments of calm, but suddenly you can be hit by a storm and you can’t ever relax,” Gabbiadini said. “Five goals in three games is an amazing start. But it won’t always be this way. One thing I can guarantee though: I will always give my best, I’ll never give up.

“It has been beautiful, but I need to keep my feet on the ground. Football is strange, you’re flying and then suddenly you crash back down to earth. But I’d be lying if I said I’d expected a start like this.”

It is simply amazing that no other PL team took a punt on Gabbiadini in the past two transfer windows.

At Napoli he’s been behind Gonzalo Higuain in the pecking order in recent years and he fell out with manager Maurizio Sarri before exiting the Stadio San Paolo on Deadline Day in January. Everton were interested in the summer and must be kicking themselves now Gabbiadini has delivered goals and stunning forward play in his opening few weeks in England.

As he said, it won’t always be this way for him but Saints have badly lacked a clinical finisher all season long as they created multiple chances but had nobody to put them away. Gabbiadini always seems to be the right man at the right place at the right time on the pitch. You can say that off the pitch too.

Don’t be surprised to see some huge clubs come in for an offer for Gabbiadini this summer. His value has probably doubled already as Saints have picked up yet another gem.