? Can the U.S. get a result? The last time the U.S. played in Europe, a 3-2 win in Slovenia last November, was a step forward for a team that had been struggling to score goals under Jurgen Klinsmann. But Italy will be a much stiffer test. Health issues have taken out multiple U.S. starters, including Landon Donovan, and so the attacking onus will fall largely on the in-form Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Klinsmann was clear in saying today that the U.S. is here to try and beat Italy, not just for a learning experience, but that won't be easy against an Italy team that will include Gigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Antonio Nocerino and Alessandro Matri.
? This is a game for Michael Bradley. It was no coincidence that the U.S. had its best performance under Klinsmann once Bradley became starter again in November against Slovenia. Bradley has settled in well at Serie A Chievo, and his virtues (smarts, toughness, positioning) will be even more important against a well-organized Italian team. Bradley has gotten the star treatment in Italy ahead of this game, appearing in a full-page spread in Tuesday's Gazzetta dello Sport, where he talked about growing up watching the great AC Milan teams and wanting someday to play for Milan himself. With the spotlight on him in this game, a good performance would help burnish his profile even more in Italy.
? Who will we see on the field? Italy coach Cesare Prandelli already confirmed his lineup on Tuesday: Gianluigi Buffon; Christian Maggio, Andrea Barzagli, Angelo Ogbonna, Domenico Criscito; Antonio Nocerino, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio; Sebastian Giovinco, Alessandro Matri. (The biggest surprise is Ogbonna, a Nigerian-Italian who plays in Serie B for Torino.) So it's a lineup without Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi or (because he wasn't even called in) Mario Balotelli. That said, it's a formidable side that should provide plenty of defensive resistance. I'd keep a particular eye on Matri, who has been a goal-scoring menace for Juventus, and see how he interacts with a U.S. center back pairing that should include Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson. Here's my projected U.S. lineup: Tim Howard; Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson; Maurice Edu; Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Brek Shea; Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle.
? There's plenty of history in USA-Italy. I had a nice talk at the stadium with former U.S. forward Brian McBride, who's here as part of an ultimate fan experience that a couple from California has paid top-dollar for to U.S. Soccer. I asked McBride if he ever heard back from Daniele De Rossi after the famous World Cup '06 incident in which De Rossi was sent off for spearing McBride in the face, drawing a blood gusher. McBride said De Rossi came to the U.S. locker room after that game and was as apologetic as he had ever seen a player before. That unforgettable 1-1 tie, in which the teams finished playing nine-vs.-nine, was also on the mind of Bocanegra, who recalled it as one of his greatest memories that in his first World Cup game the U.S. was able to get a result against the eventual 2006 World Cup champions.