When it comes to teams that should make American soccer fans' blood boil, the Mexico rivalry holds enough hatred for places one, two and three.
But as the US soccer team prepares for a friendly in Genoa, it's the perfect time to highlight the team that should receive the next level of the Stars and Stripes' rage: Italy. The US has never beaten Italy, though there have been moments that have lifted the Americans' hopes along the way, only to be crushed or ruthlessly frustrated.
Let's examine recent history, starting with the 2006 World Cup. After opening with a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, the US essentially needed a win against Italy to have a shot at advancing. It started awfully with an offsides trap failing and Italy scoring on a free kick, but was re-energized when an own goal evened things. Then Daniele de Rossi clocked Brian McBride with his elbow and busted his face open, first earning the outrage of the Americans and in turn, a red card for his actions. De Rossi is notoriously classy, gracious and a pro's pro, but for the purposes of this argument, in that moment, he was the dirtiest of the dirty. "That elbow was absurd!" I shouted at my TV. Off he went.
Of course, the rest of the game was just as infuriating. The US failed to really take advantage of the extra man, and eventually two US players were sent off, capping a game of absurd officiating by Jorge Larrionda. Italy, of course, went on to win the World Cup. And America was that close, and not close at all. Throw in a 1-0 loss to Italy in Rome during the 1990 World Cup, and you've got plenty of World Cup bitterness to work with. Plus, you can be mad about Tony Meola's 1990 mullet further embarrassing the red, white and blue, as well. Still not enough? Don't ever forget that 7-1 drubbing in the 1934 World Cup. That one still stings.
But now fast forward from all that World Cup shame to the 2009 Confederations Cup. Famously, the US squad reached the finals against Brazil thanks to an upset of Spain. But it started in agonizing fashion against Italy. The US went up 1-0 on a PK by Landon Donovan. What a start. Then a 3-0 run, spurred by New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi (we'll get to him in a minute), destroyed all hope the US had of starting the tournament right. The tournament got better for the US as it went along, and the Yanks also got the last laugh as they advanced to knockout while Italy was sent home thanks to total goals scored, which the US edged stole by a goal.
But the loss still stung because of Rossi. Born and raised in New Jersey, he moved to Italy to further his career as a teenager, and never looked back. Despite early flack from critics that assured he'd never make the Italian first team after spurning the US, he rocketed up the ladder to become one of the world's best forwards. He also celebrated heavily after that first goal in the Confederations Cup, a big no-no when playing former professional teams or international teams where you groomed your talent or were born. And Rossi is highly unapologetic for walking away from the US to play for Italy. It's easy to turn that heartbreak into anger. Embrace the dark side, US fans. Thankfully, a season-ending injury means Rossi won't be around to torment his home country again. But in case you're wondering what the US is missing without him...it's significant.
Now, if you're an avid US fan, you've probably spent the entirety of this piece thinking, "Yeah, but what about Guatemala...or England...or isn't Mexico enough?" I argue no. You need a natural rival with geographic and political history, and you need something at which to swing up. The US doesn't belong on the same field as Italy, and it can only be assumed that the Italians are well aware of this. If not, again for the purposes of this argument, assume they do, and help forge the animosity. If there's a team above the US' weight class that deserves some wild hooks for the past six years, it's Italy.
And even if you choose to bear no ill will for the Azzurri during today's match in advance, it will grow on you. Just focus on how smug they look. So smug. Just look at Andrea Pirlo's hair! The smuggiest.
Max Thompson is the Senior Editor at ThePostGame. Follow him on Twitter: @maxthompson.
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