Roma's class a boost to U.S. soccer

Posted by James Tyler

The U.S.'s impressive record against overseas opponents at the All-Star Game couldn't last forever, something illustrated by the 3-1 defeat against AS Roma at Sporting Park. With the game taking on a gentle tone from the outset, it was a nice to simply appreciate the class of the Serie A visitors, under new management in Rudi Garcia and a club for whom preseason preparation is going smoothly.

Without further ado, some thoughts on the game as it happened:

Bitten again by the injury bug
Despite the sedate pace, U.S. midfield star Graham Zusi was still forced to endure the pain and difficulty of a quad strain before being subbed off barely midway through the first half. The muscle pull meant that the SKC playmaker joins Stuart Holden and Brek Shea in the ranks of the crocked, hardly something Jurgen Klinsmann needs with the Hex resuming in the not-too-distant future.

Zusi's ailment revives the half-baked argument that All-Star games should be abolished, disbanded, hated and forgotten. Yes, the risks exist, but there's no reason for MLS to stop pitting itself against the top teams from around the globe. Injuries can always heal.

Seeing Totti up close
There is an unexpected thrill to seeing the game's best in their later years. As with Pirlo, Gerrard, Scholes, Ronaldinho in recent seasons, the advance in age forces other nuances in play to emerge and develop. A lack of pace is countered with a refined passing range. As stamina ebbs, vision and efficiency flows.

Whatever the evolution, Francesco Totti's bursts of speed still hold influence in bursts but his overall play oozes quality and flair. The effortless accuracy on his long-range passes. The menace of his set pieces. The force of his movement around the box. It didn't matter that he failed to get on the scoresheet. Such was the respect he was afforded by the MLS rearguard that his mere presence gave Roma a platform on which to impress.

Roma's moving in the right direction
Under Rudi Garcia, it's plain to see that the Serie A side is steadily continuing to grow. One wouldn't have begrudged a drop-off in the Giallorossi, having been through two traumatic spells of losing Luis Enrique and then Zdenek Zeman as manager just when it seemed that the corner had been turned. Yet the arrival of ex-Lille tactician Garcia hasn't experienced any such bump in form.

Starting a mixture of first XI talent with hype-worthy youth, Roma's aggression and pressure was simply too much for its MLS hosts. Miralem Pjanic conducted traffic behind the always-moving Totti and young poacher Junior Tallo. Alessandro Florenzi found room in the attacking third to shred the All-Star's gentle zone.

Then there was the midfield pivot of Michael Bradley and Kevin Strootman, two players very much cut from the same mold. The insistence on pressing high up the pitch, combined with the MLS' insistence on playing a high defensive line, yielded endless room for Roma to attack after forcing quick turnovers far from goal. As it turned out, Roma's first came from just that; a breakdown near halfway allowed Florenzi to play a clever angled ball in behind Aurelien Collin for Strootman to coolly sweep home. (Replays showed that the SKC defender got a touch but the speed of Roma's attack left him no choice.)

Florenzi scored his own very soon after half-time, showing good discipline to stick to a back post run that was met with Federico Balzaretti's low cross for a simple finish.

But it was the third goal that illustrated Roma's dominance. A quick pass-and-move act between Bradley and Strootman played the Dutchman in behind a static back four on the edge of the box. All it took was a gentle pass across goal for Tallo to tap in the simplest goal he might ever score. That partnership of the American and the Dutchman will be crucial for Garcia's fortunes moving forward.

Other tactical quibbles included the MLS side's dreadful play from both full-back positions. Time and again, Tony Beltran and Corey Ashe failed to track runs made in behind them as Roma exploited all the gaps you'd expect among a group of teammates-for-a-day.

It's unclear whether the home side underestimated Roma given the impressive late win over Chelsea in last season's All-Star version. However you explain the defeat, it will barely stick in the mind given the quality of the product on display -- in the second half, at least -- and the fact that it's another quality opponent brought to American shores.


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