The U.S. men's national team closed its 2018 slate in heartbreaking fashion, losing to Italy 1-0 on Matteo Politano's 94th-minute goal in a friendly played at a neutral site in Genk, Belgium.
The two 2018 World Cup spectators brought rather young and inexperienced squads to the match, with both turning the pages at their own paces after a massive qualifying failure, but it was Italy that dominated the run of play, maintaining 73.5% of the possession and outshooting the U.S. 17-3. If not for Ethan Horvath's saves in goal, the result would have been considerably more lopsided.
Horvath was one of 10 changes to the U.S. lineup after last Thursday's loss to England. Christian Pulisic, who donned the captain's armband for the first time and became the youngest captain in modern U.S. Soccer history, was the lone holdover to start in Dave Sarachan's experimental 3-5-2 formation.
Horvath, who plays his club soccer a couple hours away in Bruges, was called into action early when Federico Chiesa was played in behind left wingback Shaq Moore. Horvath came up with the save in the third minute, denying Fiorentina's rising star.
Italy continued to command possession, and Chiesa threatened again a few minutes later, pulling a shot by the far post.
Domenico Berardi came close to scoring next, snapping a header from the center off a box after a Chiesa cross wide of the right post.
The USA's first moment of danger didn't come until the 15th minute, when Pulisic got in behind racing down the left-hand side and fired in a cross aimed for Josh Sargent, only to have it cleared to safety.
Italy retook control after that and nearly scored in the 18th minute off a set piece. Stefano Sensi, making his Azzurri debut, served in a great ball for veteran Leonardo Bonucci, who had beaten Walker Zimmerman to the spot. Horvath made the point-blank save off the flying kick, though, keeping the game scoreless.
It was then Chiesa's turn once again to cause some trouble, sending in another teasing ball from the right side that Emerson Palmieri headed well over the bar in the 22nd minute.
Some 16 minutes later, Berardi forced Horvath into his third save of the night off a curving, dipping blast from long range, which the goalkeeper managed to get a fingertip on to make sure it sailed over the bar. Horvath was at it again in the 44th minute, managing to parry away a dangerous free kick from the left by Marco Verratti, one that whizzed through the area and bounced toward the goal mouth before Horvath was able to react quickly and make the diving save.
More of the same continued in the second half, and Italy nearly capitalized on a U.S. defensive mistake in the 52nd minute. Aaron Long and Moore both presumed a wayward ball was going out of play, but it stayed in, and halftime substitute Vincenzo Grifo raced to claim it before sending in a dangerous cross. Verratti flashed through the box for a leaping header, but he put the chance over the bar.
Horvath made his fifth save of the night in the 59th minute, denying Kevin Lasagna on the doorstep after the forward had been played in behind by Bonucci.
On the other end, the U.S. finally tested goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu for the first time in the 63rd minute. It came off a set piece, with Kellyn Acosta's teasing ball bouncing through the area to the far post. Zimmerman put his header from a tight angle on target, but Sirigu made an impressive, one-handed reaction save to swat it out for a corner.
Horvath then made another highlight-reel save in the 69th minute, with Grifo having the time and space to try and curl one in from the edge of the area only for Horvath to make a diving stop to his left. Moments later, Lasagna was played in behind, and while eventually being flagged for offside, it came after Horvath raced off his line to deny the forward on the 1-v-1 opportunity.
Italy wasted a golden chance in the 85th minute when Lasagna had a loose ball fall to him 12 yards from goal, but he overcooked his left-footed chance, firing well over the bar and failing to test Horvath.
The U.S. tried to sneak a winner in the 90th minute through substitute Romain Gall, who came on in the 83rd minute to make his U.S. debut. His speculative blast from 25 yards forced Sirigu into a diving save, though nothing came from the ensuing corner kick.
Italy got its winner at the death, with Politano getting on the end of a fantastic combination to finish from the center of the box, beating a helpless Horvath in the 94th minute and giving the Azzurri a deserved victory.
Here were the lineups for the match:
Here were the rosters for both teams:
GOALKEEPERS: Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnaurumma (AC Milan), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino)
DEFENDERS: Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Mattia De Sciglio (Juventus), Gianluca Manchini (Atalanta), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Daniele Rugani (Juventus)
MIDFIELDERS: Nicolò Barella (Cagliari), Roberto Gagliardini (Inter Milan), Vincenzo Grifo (Hoffenheim), Stefano Sensi (Sassuolo), Sandro Tonali (Brescia), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
FORWARDS: Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Moise Kean (Juventus), Kevin Lasagna (Udinese), Leonardo Pavoletti (Cagliari), Matteo Politano (Inter Milan)
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin)
DEFENDERS: John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Matt Miazga (Nantes), Shaq Moore (Reus Deportiu), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Romain Gall (Malmo), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Tim Weah (PSG)
FORWARDS: Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96)