Italy outplayed the United States men’s national team at nearly every turn of Tuesday evening’s friendly in Genk, Belgium, but didn’t breakthrough until the fourth minute of stoppage time thanks to a valiant performance by American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath.
Horvath made five impressive saves, but was finally beaten by substitute Matteo Politano’s goal off a nifty one-two involving Vincenzo Grifo and Roberto Gagliardini, and Italy took a 1-0 win at the Cristal Arena.
Using a squad composed largely of prospects and reserves, the Azzurri controlled the majority of possession against the upstart USMNT, which didn’t record a shot until after the hour mark.
Stefano Sensi helped orchestrate most of the Italians’ play in central midfield, alongside Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, and was a danger on set pieces. Sensi looped an 18th-minute free kick into the box, where Juventus central defender Leonardo Bonucci – by far the most senior member in Italy’s starting XI – clipped a volley off Horvath’s chest.
Horvath beat away Sensi’s 43rd-minute free kick as well, and was also equal to Domenico Berardi’s 33rd-minute effort from just outside the box.
USMNT made 10 changes to the team that lost 3-0 at Wembley Stadium to England last week, including using a 3-5-2 formation with Horvath in net and Christian Pulisic and Josh Sargent as the strikers.
But the U.S. was devoid of creativity in the first half and showed little fight in fighting for possession despite a pair of cautions to Kellyn Acosta and Shaq Moore.
The U.S. also became the third consecutive adversary to fail to record a shot on target against Italy in the first half, joining Poland and Portugal.
The U.S. appeared to start the second half with more vigor, but Italy remained the clear frontrunner. Verratti headed a cross by Vincenzo Grifo well wide of net in the 53rd minute, then Kevin Lasagna had a bid halted by Horvath after going in alone on a Bonucci through pass.
The USMNT’s best chance – and one of just two shots on target – came in the 64th minute as Los Angeles FC central defender Walker Zimmermann arrived at the back post to head a free kick by New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams off the fingertips of Salvatore Sirigu.
Grifo returned fire six minutes later, shooting a blast from outside the box that Horvath leapt left to keep from flying into the back of the net.
Tuesday’s game marked the U.S. and Italy’s 12th meeting all-time. Thanks to Politano’s late goal, Italy now lead the series 8-1-3.