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Brian McBride: Mentality, Team Unity Key to Playing Against Italy

One of the more iconic images in U.S. Men’s National Team history is former forward Brian McBride and his bloodied face in the match against Italy on June 16, 2006, at the FIFA World Cup in Germany.

McBride took an elbow to the face against Italy’s Daniele De Rossi, and video and still cameras captured the gash near McBride’s left eye. McBride received treatment and stayed in the game, De Rossi was ejected, and the U.S. managed to play the eventual World Cup champion to a 1-1 draw – Italy’s lone blemish during the event.

“It sort of came out of the blue for me,” McBride said of the elbow to the face. “I saw it as we were going up because he was nowhere near the ball. Thankfully I don’t have much feeling in my face, so it wasn’t really a pain issue. That’s one of the benefits of having plates in your face!”

The physical nature of going up against Italy is only a portion of the battle. To take on a team of that caliber, McBride says a steadfast mental and team-oriented approach is absolutely necessary to play on par or perhaps trump the four-time World Cup champions.

On that day in 2006, the USA showcased some of its best team-based soccer following one of its more disappointing efforts the game before, a 3-0 loss against the Czech Republic.

“I think we wanted to get a little pride back,” McBride said. “I think all of us realized we didn’t come out and play against the Czech Republic. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again. Preparation was a big thing, but more importantly the mentality was 100 times better.”

The U.S. faces Italy on Wednesday in Genoa, still in search of its first victory in the series where the Azzuri hold a lifetime 7-0-3 advantage.

The USA has fared better in the series in recent years, and the 1-1 World Cup draw was a prime example of the team’s improved play against one of the world’s strongest squads.

“When you play Italy, you’ve got to be smart enough to not get involved in some of the mental sides of the game that they’re very smart at,” McBride said. “They get you out of your game both individually and as a team. We didn’t get distracted. I thought we played a very smart and together game.”

The match had its share of highs and lows, especially in the first 47 minutes. Italy’s Alberto Gilardino scored a 22nd-minute goal, but Christian Zaccardo put one into his own net to put the U.S. on the board in the 27th minute.

The U.S. went up a man in the 28th minute following De Rossi’s elbow against McBride. But that advantage was short-lived when U.S. midfielder Pablo Mastroeni was shown a straight red in the 45th minute for a two-footed challenge against Italy’s Andrea Pirlo.

“That probably took away some of the momentum for us going into halftime – the fear factor for them playing a whole other half down a man,” McBride said. “But it didn’t change our mentality. If anything, we realized that the game was essentially starting over again, like a normal halftime start. It would have been nice to be up a man, but that’s part of soccer.”

Shortly into the second half, the U.S. were dealt a huge blow when Eddie Pope was shown a second yellow card in the 47th minute for a challenge against Italy’s Alberto Gilardino. The USA had to play the remainder of the match down to only nine men.

“When we went down another guy, you could just see everybody come together,” McBride said. “We all knew we had to do this together. We could not have one guy not working, and I think you saw it.”

Defensively, the U.S. held its ground with Kasey Keller coming up with a couple of big saves down the stretch. Because the U.S. was shorthanded, offensive chances were few and far between, though McBride does wish he had one opportunity back when he was attacking toward the near left post and his shot went wide of the net.

Nevertheless, playing even with the world’s best at the time was a significant accomplishment for the United States.

“I don’t think we were satisfied necessarily with the result,” McBride said. “I think we were more satisfied with the fact that we really played together as a team. Coming off of probably one of our worst performances as a national team that I can remember and go out and do that together as a group, that gave us so much more confidence going into the game against Ghana.”

Six years later, the U.S. squad will be looking to bring that same approach against Italy, and perhaps collect its first win in the process.