U.S. Men's Soccer Win Over Italy 'Historic'

Audie Cornish talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about this week's historic win by the U.S. men's soccer team against Italy.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish and it's time now for sports.

IAN DARKE: (Unintelligible) turn and shoot here. Dempsey scores. Clint Dempsey pushed the U.S. ahead. What a shocker and becomes only the fourth American player ever to score against Italy.

CORNISH: That was Ian Darke of ESPN, calling a goal by Clint Dempsey. That shot gave the United States a historic one-nothing win over international soccer powerhouse Italy, earlier this week. It was the first time in 11 attempts over 78 years that the U.S. defeated the Italians.

Sports writer Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So this game was played in Italy. Tell us what it means for U.S. soccer.

FATSIS: You know, it means that we're making progress. It was a friendly match. Countries play each other outside of tournaments. You don't want to put too much emphasis on the result because of that, but...

CORNISH: Oh, man, are you kidding? I mean, we had this big build-up. First time in 11 attempts, 78 years.

FATSIS: Let me get to the but. It was on Italian soil. It was a first. Anytime you can play well or beat one of the established powers in soccer, if you're the Americans, you are psyched about that. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said afterward, pretty cool. But the Americans are trying to sort of keep a level head about their progress and it is all about progress here.

The U.S. played really well defensively. The Italians had opportunities. The U.S. thwarted them in this game. This shows that the U.S. is making some steps forward under their new coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, who was hired last summer.

CORNISH: Tell us more about Klinsmann. Apparently, he's a soccer legend in Germany. Right?

FATSIS: He is. And his goal here is to get the United States into good shape for the 2014 World Cup. Qualifying for that begins this summer. And the next longer term step is to have the United States join the world elite with Italy, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, England. Klinsmann is trying to establish a more cohesive system for training and identifying and developing American players. He's trying to alter the way these players think when they're on the field. He's also going after more players who grew up in other countries, but have dual citizenship. That's common in international soccer, but it's been really noticeable with the U.S. team lately.

CORNISH: Really? So what countries are we getting people from?

FATSIS: Well, Klinsmann's German, so we're getting a lot of Germans. Three of the Americans who played in that game against Italy are the sons of German mothers and American serviceman fathers. They play professionally in Germany. There are others who didn't play in the Italy game who also are of German extraction.

The same day as that game, a dual citizenship German played for the U.S.'s under-23 national team - that's 23 years old and under - in a tune-up for Olympic qualifying. That game also had a guy who was born and raised in Norway who has dual citizenship.

CORNISH: OK. Stefan, so speaking of Olympic qualifying, obviously, for the men, that started this month. What's going on with women's soccer?

FATSIS: Well, they easily qualified for the Olympics already. They outscored their five regional opponents 38 to nothing a few weeks ago in a tournament. The Olympics is the second major event after the World Cup for women's soccer. The U.S. is playing in a tune-up tournament in Portugal this week. It's called the Algarve Cup. They beat Norway today. They've got a rematch on Monday against their World Cup nemesis, Japan, who beat them last summer in Germany.

No way to watch these games, though. The U.S. sports networks passed on televising the Algarve Cup. U.S. soccer didn't pay for the rights to stream them online.

CORNISH: Oh, this is not a good sign, which reminds me of another story. Two former players were voted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame this week, but the thing is, the Hall of Fame is now virtual. What's going on here?

FATSIS: Well, there used to be an actual Hall of Fame. It was in Oneonta, New York, but it closed its doors a couple of years ago, apparently for lack of visitors and lack of funding. Its archives are scattered around the country. Some are in storage in North Carolina at a company that sells soccer apparel, so mid-fielder Claudio Reyna, goalkeeper Tony Meola, welcome to the Hall of Fame. You can look yourselves up at USSoccer.com.

CORNISH: Still an honor, though, of course. Right, Stefan?

FATSIS: And they do do an induction ceremony.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Thanks so much.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

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