KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The United States plays Italy in the World Cup on Saturday, and the Americans likely will need a victory against the famous Azzurri to avoid the humiliation of being bounced from the tournament.
Following a quarterfinal finish four years ago, the United States hoped to become a contender in the world's game. But an opening 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic made the Americans look as though they simply didn't belong.
Another loss, and they can start reconfirming their reservations out of here. Another loss, and surely fans will wonder whether the Americans have regressed to the bad old days of 1998, when the United States finished last in the 32-nation field.
There is a needle-slim chance the team could advance with three points, but it would require a rout of Ghana by the Americans and an almost improbable combination of results from the rest of the group.
"We better have a bit of an attitude that we can play and that we're ready to play over 90 minutes, or else we're not going to be successful," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, whose job could be at stake.
To get ready, the Americans garrisoned themselves at Ramstein Air Base, a short distance from Fritz-Walter-Stadion, a neighborhood ballpark like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. With about 50,000 military and civilians, the base provides some of the comforts of home.
"We have American channels in the rooms so guys can kind of feel at ease a little bit," Reyna said. "A lot of people that we saw I think put our game into perspective right away ... seeing some of the troops that were just back from war."
Downtown Kaiserslautern was filled with Americans on Friday night who waved the red, white and blue and rocked out in the vibrant late-night bars near the Stiftkirche, built from 1250 to 1350.
While the Americans are trying to join the top soccer nations, Italy is famous for its three World Cup titles and Serie A, one of the strongest leagues. All 23 players on Italy's roster play at home, unusual for top soccer nations, and the Italian culture can tend to be insular.
Following earlier remarks by midfielder Andrea Pirlo and defender Fabio Grosso about their knowledge of the U.S. team — or lack thereof — Italy coach Marcello Lippi made a point Friday of reeling off a good chunk of the American roster. As if to prove a point, he singled out Reyna, Beasley, Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Bobby Convey and Clint Dempsey.
"They've got many weapons," he said, adding that for his players to underestimate the U.S. team "would be a real serious mistake."
Arena promised lineup changes: Beasley could be benched, as could midfielder Pablo Mastroeni or defenders Eddie Lewis or Steve Cherundolo, depending on whether Arena chooses to start four backs or three. John O'Brien could start in the midfield and Johnson at forward — they both provided sparks when they entered at halftime against the Czechs.
Italy, which opened with a 2-0 victory over Ghana, has never lost to the United States. It beat the Americans 7-1 in the 1934 World Cup, 1-0 in the 1990 World Cup — both games were in Rome — and 1-0 in an exhibition game four years ago in Sicily. The U.S. team held the Azzurri (the Blues) to ties in a pair of exhibitions, 0-0 at New Jersey's Giants Stadium in 1984 and 1-1 at Chicago's Solider Field in 1992.
Because of their poor goal difference, the Americans probably need a win to keep alive their hopes of advancing — four points might not be good enough to get out of the group.
Reyna knows that.
"We need a big game against Italy," he said.
Italy is led by Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni — Arena called the 6-foot-5, 193-pound forward "a beast," and Reyna called the pair "predators" who are "hungry to score." Playmaker Francesco Totti is still playing himself back into shape after returning from a broken leg.
Outside back Gianluca Zambrotta, who missed Italy's opener with a thigh injury, is ready to play. Midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, recovering from a strained right thigh, is available but probably won't start.
Reyna has spoken to many teammates this week, trying to keep their spirits up after the deflating defeat.
"Everyone needs to be brave and want the ball," he said. "We need a result of some magnitude."