Who should the US face in their group?
Purely on a motivational level, the best seeded team that the USA could draw would be Italy. Again.
To go up against a team who has had its share of refereeing controversies and literally bad blood that have helped it win is huge motivation.
On field incidents:
In 2006, Italy drew through on an Alberto Gilardino's goal in the 22nd minute which was nullified by Cristian Zaccardo's own goal five minutes later. The match became a flashpoint as Daniele De Rossi's vicious elbow to Brian McBride's head opened up a bloody gash. The USA also played the entire second half two men down as Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni were sent off.
In the Confederations Cup, three years later, the USA faced another early expulsion in Ricardo Clark but were able to pull ahead through Landon Donovan's PK after Altidore was bought down. The US without Clark stuck manfully to their task for almost two thirds of the game. It was NJ native Giuseppe Rossi who had spurned the US national team to play for the Azzurri that turned it around.
He scored the equalizer in the 58th minute in an "Et tu Brutus" moment. The infamous Daniele De Rossi had a match to remember as he scored the winner before Rossi scored an insurance third goal. Again the match was marred by the US facing a man down, refereeing controversies, and in a bitter twist the loss came at the hands of an American born striker.
An Italian squad that is long in the tooth:
Apart from motivation, the Italians have not looked entirely self assured in their qualifying campaign. The US will be heartened by the Irish display who seemed to have the measure of Italy before Alberto Gilardino's stoppage time goal dashed their hopes of automatic qualification.
Marcelo Lippi's selection reveals a generation of stand out players are transitioning with no real successors to take their place.
A squad of 2006 returnees with Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Fabio Grosso, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta, and Alberto Gilardino with their experience are getting the nod. Lippi's tinkering with the likes of Nicola Legrottaglie, Riccardo Montolivo, Simon Pepe, Fabio Quagliarella, Giuseppe Rossi, and others have met with mixed results.
The only player not a part off the 2006 World Cup squad who will make Lippi's first XI is Giorgio Chiellini. Francesco Totti might come out of his international retirement and Lippi has made some encouraging signs that the Roma captain would be a welcome addition. So too would be evergreen Alessandro Del Piero who looked like Juve's best player against Bordeaux in a humiliating loss in the CL group stage. Andrea Cassano, Italy's sentimental favourite does not seen to have found himself in Lippi's favour because of his temperament.
I do think this Italy squad looks vulnerable. They have a set of great central midfielders but it is in the wide positions that they have questions. Camoranesi and Gattuso have lost a step. They have struggled to score with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino not amongst the Serie top scorers. Still this is Italy, they do just enough to score, their defense takes care of the rest and the result is
five four World Cup titles in hand.
If the US does draw Italy, we can try and do things a bit differently. Bob Bradley can use past matches to motivate, to avoid committing unnecessary fouls, and to try and wear an older Italian team with superior fitness and speed.