The United States and its latest coach have a signature victory. Against four-time world champion Italy, no less.
Gaining a rare win over a soccer power, the United States beat Italy 1-0 Wednesday night on Clint Dempsey's goal in the 55th minute for the Americans' first win over the Azzurri in 11 games spanning 78 years.
"It's just a confidence builder," Dempsey said. "We're just trying to move in the right direction and trying to get as sharp as we can for the summer and the World Cup qualifying games because the goal is to qualify for the World Cup. It's important to come to places like this and play big teams on their own soil and get results. At times it wasn't pretty, but we grounded out the result tonight."
American players applauded each other and their fans, who cheered loudly and proudly waved the red, white and blue after Jurgen Klinsmann's biggest win as U.S. coach.
Klinsmann, the former German national team star player and coach who has lived in California for more than a decade, replaced the fired Bob Bradley last summer. The Americans won their fourth straight match with their third consecutive shutout to improve to 5-4-1 under Klinsmann.
"It's historic for us beating a team of Italy's level," Klinsmann said. "If you beat Italy on their own soil then that means a lot. ... Obviously as a coach you're pleased because you see them progressing, you see young players stepping up and playing against these amazing, experienced Italian players who have won the World Cup and played big tournaments year in and year out. Obviously it was a big step for us."
Dempsey has made a habit of taking big steps recently, for both his national team and for Fulham in the English Premier League.
The Texan put a right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area past an outstretched hand of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Fabian Johnson had crossed to Jozy Altidore, who with his back to the goal against Italy's Andrea Barzagli touched the ball back toward the top of the area.
"Initially I was going to stay where I was, but I saw the guy who was covering him had moved, so I moved to my right to try to get open so he could play me the ball," Dempsey said. "He did a great job of holding it up, playing me, so I tried to hit it low and hard at the far post and it went in."
After returning to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years in 1990 and advancing to the quarterfinals in 2002, the Americans have struggled to make additional progress. They were knocked out in the first round of the 2006 World Cup and the second round of the 2010 tournament, eliminated both times with defeats to Ghana. They wasted a two-goal lead against Mexico last June and lost 4-2 in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, their regional championship.
The Americans had been 0-7-3 against Italy, getting outscored 32-4.
"We don't want to get carried away — it's a friendly," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "But it definitely feels good and we'll be excited about this one, and hopefully it gives us more confidence going into the summer."
Dempsey scored his 25th goal in 83 international appearances. The native of Nacogdoches, Texas, has had the most accomplished season by a U.S. attacking player in European soccer. With 16 goals this season for Fulham, he's become the American career scoring leader in the Premier League with 43 goals.
Dempsey, who turns 29 on March 9, also had the best U.S. chance in the first half, with a free kick from about 28 yards that Buffon saved with a two-handed punch.
No. 8 Italy dominated for stretches and outshot the U.S. 19-4. But the 31st-ranked Americans held firm as the Azzurri were called for offside nine times — to none for the U.S.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard had a big kick save on Alessandro Matri in the fifth minute. Italy nearly tied the score in injury time when Riccardo Montolivo's shot went wide of the post.
"We fight for respect every time we step on the field," American midfielder Michael Bradley said, "so every little bit helps."
NOTES: Dempsey became just the fourth American to score against Italy, joining Buff Donelli (1934), John Harkes (1992) and Landon Donovan (2009). There was also an own goal in 2006. ... The U.S. has outscored opponents 8-7 under Klinsmann. ... With Timmy Chandler injured, Johnson played left back. ... The Americans wore new road jerseys in blue with white sleeves. ... Terrence Boyd made his U.S. debut, entering in the 79th minute. The 21-year-old forward has not played a first-team match for Borussia Dortmund.