By David Kilpatrick, DKilpatrick [AT] mercy [DOT] edu
“There are no friendlies in football” is a well-worn cliché of the game, one that supporters of the sport in the United States are resorting to in defense of their enthusiasm for the men’s national team’s 0-1 victory over Italy in Genoa this week. As any Yank who has ever played overseas knows well, each match – whether pickup or pro – is a battle for respectability.
To be sure, there have been more shocking and significant results in the history of American soccer, from the win over England by the same scoreline in Belo Horizonte at the 1950 World Cup, to the 2-0 win over the defending European and eventual World Champion Spanish side in the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup in Johannesburg. But this was the first time in eleven efforts that the Americans were able to defeat the Azzurri. The 1-1 draw between the sides in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup Finals, the US playing much of the match with ten men, may well have been a greater accomplishment, as they were the only side to play but not lose to the eventual champions of that tournament. While no title was at stake this week, the result would be less impressive if earned on neutral soil; one cannot overstate the significance of Italy suffering their first defeat in Genoa since 1924.