First and foremost, let’s talk about that impressive, dominating 90-minute performance from the Americans. It’s difficult to recall a match where the ‘Nats took control of the game from start to finish and squeezed their opponent into submission so exhaustively. The Panamanians, aside from one or two chances against the run of play, did not pose any consistent threat to Tim Howard and the U.S. defense.
From a tactical perspective, the Canaleros (“the Canal Men”) came out putting numbers behind the ball, as expected, and looked to catch the U.S. on the counterattack. The U.S. were well-prepared and confident, exercising patience as they probed the defense and picked their spots in making the incisive pass to break down Panama. For the first 25 minutes or so, the U.S. was a bit sloppy and off rhythm in the final third, unable to connect on their final penetrating passes. However, as the ‘Nats worked themselves into the game and as their confidence built, they grew sharper and more clinical around goal. Both goals, and DaMarcus Beasley’s shot off the post, left the Panamanian defense helpless and showcased the potency of a free-flowing U.S. attack. Moreover, do not understate the importance of scoring the first goal early because the goal forced Panama out of their shell and opened up the game for the Americans. In the second half, the Americans controlled the game and choose the right moments to attack and build their lead against the overextended Panamanian defense.
While USMNT fans should be nothing short of ecstatic after witnessing a thorough take-down of a pesky opponent, I think it should be noted that a performance like this raises the bar, both for better and worse. For better, this games illustrates that the U.S. can play in the proactive approach, predicated upon keeping possession and attacking the defense for 90 minutes, that Klinsmann promised to implement upon his hiring. For worse, however, the collective expectations of all USMNT fans has risen, and rightfully so. While the U.S. is not going to transform into Spain overnight and a gulf still exists among the U.S. and other soccer powers, this game proves that the U.S. does not have to rely on counterattacking and exploiting set pieces when playing top teams around the world (though these strategies are still useful). Do not expect the USMNT to perform at this level in every match, as the team will undoubtedly face ups and downs during its ascension, but a match like this is a critical step in raising the level of play for the USMNT.
From a Panamanian perspective, they sorely missed Blas Perez, their mercurial, prolific striker, who could have tested the U.S. backline. With the exception of Alberto Quintero, no Panamanian player consistently threatened the U.S. defense, and Quintero seemed more interested in drawing a penalty than scoring or setting up a goal for himself. USMNT fans, note that this Panama team had not previously lost in the Hexagonal round and is no slouch. All in all, the key takeaways from the match are the many superb individual performances, the phenomenal, uplifting Seattle crowd, and the continued strong decision-making of Jurgen Klinsmann. Now, here are my player grades.
Tim Howard – 6.0 – While I believe the whispers of Brad Guzan being ready to assume the #1 Goalkeeper spot are premature and unfounded, Tim Howard has not been his dominant self the last few games. While he earned the clean sheet and made one strong save, Howard looked indecisive in not coming off his line on the Panamanian goal that was narrowly offside.
Brad Evans – 5.0 – I am still a fan of Brad Evans, but I think this game brought him down to Earth, especially coming off the heroic stoppage time goal versus Jamaica. Alberto Quintero gave Evans fits down the left side before switching over to the right side, and Evans was a step slow in stepping to his man on the pass that sprung Panama’s offsides goal. Evans had some nice moments distributing the ball, but, overall, his match was up and down.
Omar Gonzalez – 5.5 – Omar Gonzalez was mostly absent from the match, which is always a good sign for a defender, but, on one of the few plays where he was challenged, he completely lost his man who was streaking into the open space in the box behind him. While Gonzalez continues to grow and develop, it is vital that he learns to eliminate these mental lapses that seem to happen 1-2 times a match.
Matt Besler – 7.0 – For the third consecutive match, I believe Matt Besler outshined his centerback partner, Omar Gonzalez. Besler is rock-solid and plays with the poise of a defender who has been through the qualifying gauntlet numerous times. Besler made several strong tackles in the box to break up crosses and distributed the ball well from the backline.
DaMarcus Beasley – 6.5 – Making his sixth consecutive start, Beasley put in another strong, sturdy performance for the ‘Nats. While Beasley was beat badly by Quintero on one play when he switched over to the right side of the field, Beasley played very well otherwise and nearly scored a goal on a surging run forward, reminiscent of the Beasley of old.
Eddie Johnson – 6.25 – The hometown hero made a terrific run to time Geoff Cameron’s pass and calmly finished past the Panamanian goalkeeper. Besides his well-taken goal, I thought Eddie played decently but slowed the ball down on a few U.S. attacks, which broke up potential goal scoring sequences. I don’t think he played well enough to displace Graham Zusi from his position on the right side of the midfield.
Michael Bradley – 8.0 – My man-of-the-match. Bradley’s continued growth and development has been extremely satisfying to watch. Already one of the best midfielders in CONCACAF, Bradley is still improving and showed his class all night. Bradley worked tirelessly and sprayed the ball all over the field. His beautiful cross field pass to Dempsey catalyzed the Beasley near-goal, and his booming runs forward, including the one that started the first goal, consistently created dangerous chances for the U.S.
Geoff Cameron – 7.5 – Alongside Jozy Altidore, Cameron was the second most impressive player for the U.S. Cameron and Bradley completely controlled the midfield and owned their Panamanian counterparts in every capacity. Cameron tackled extremely well and was a calming influence in the center of the park, demonstrating surprising comfort despite his somewhat limited experience in that role. His pass to spring Eddie Johnson was perfect. Klinsmann must love the versatility that Cameron provides.
Fabian Johnson – 6.5 – Fabian Johnson showed marked improvement over his previous performance versus Jamaica. Johnson worked the left wing for the U.S. all game and delivered a perfect cross for the first U.S. goal of the game. I still think Johnson can be more consistent and impose himself on the game more frequently, but he is a promising player that showed his talent versus Panama.
Clint Dempsey – 6.0 – This rating shows the high standard Dempsey has set for himself. While Dempsey displayed glimpses of brilliance and showcased budding chemistry between him and Altidore, he was a bit out of sync the whole game. However, it should be noted that his surging near-post run pulled the defense apart to allow Jozy to finish the first goal.
Josy Altidore – 7.5 – How about scoring a few goals to boost your confidence? Altidore was a beast last night, getting involved often and providing excellent hold-up play. Altidore appears to have an insatiable appetite for scoring goals and extended his consecutive scoring streak to three games. While Altidore did a good job of getting involved, I still think the U.S. can do a better job of finding him, which is a scary thought for the rest of CONCACAF.
Seattle Crowd – Seattle USMNT fans, you were absolutely incredible last night and deserve to host many more matches as soon as possible. It was truly breathtaking to hear every chant of the raucous crowd through our TV sets, and I think I speak on behalf of every American soccer fan when I say that hearing the “We’re going to Brazil” chant emanating throughout my living room was my favorite USMNT crowd moment of the past decade.
After the completion of the first five matches, the Hexagonal is beginning to take shape. Having lost to Honduras, Jamaica is essentially all but eliminated and has reduced the competition to five teams competing for 3 (potentially) 4 spots. Following the loss to the U.S., Panama faces an uphill climb to qualify for its first World Cup, as it has three remaining matches on the road and faces group leaders, the U.S., at home. The U.S. has put itself in very good position, leading the group with 10 points after the first 5 games (3 of which were on the road), and can extend its lead with a win over Honduras next week, which would avenge its opening loss to Honduras in the first game of its Hexagonal campaign.
I would be remiss if I neglected to speak about Mexico. Firstly, what is happening to Mexico? They have yet to score in three home matches, much to the frustration of their fans, which boiled over into complete chaos when Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Rican captain, was hit in the head with an unidentified object as he attempted to take a corner kick. It goes without saying, but there is absolutely no place in the game for actions like this. Players’ safety should not be endangered while they are playing. While I encourage each and every nation’s fans to cheer as loudly as possible to create a hostile environment, Mexico has taken it too far. On a similar note, Mexican fans’ affinity for shooting laser pointers into the eyes of opposing players is disgraceful. Perhaps if their team was playing better, they would not have to resort to such immature behavior. Finally, FIFA is planning to review this game and may prohibit Mexico from hosting future games at their storied stadium, the Azteca, so keep an eye on that development.
Looking Forward to Honduras
The U.S. has worked itself into excellent position as it heads to Salt Lake City to take on a Honduras team that handed them an opening loss at the start of their Hexagonal campaign. USMNT fans will be eager to see the U.S. build upon their sterling performance versus Panama and avenge their opening match loss to Honduras. With a week’s rest and no known injuries, Klinsmann should have a full squad at his disposal, leaving him with some interesting decisions to make.
1. Rest any regulars to offer a chance to other players and/or prevent suspension from yellow card accumulation?
I believe Klinsmann will field the strongest lineup possible and look to earn three points at home to cap off an excellent three match qualifying series.
2. Continue to use the backline of Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, and Beasley for the fourth consecutive game?
I believe Klinsmann will maintain his backline, despite an uneven performance from Evans versus Panama.
3. Replace Cameron and Johnson with their predecessors, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi?
I believe that Zusi will reclaim his spot in right midfield over Eddie Johnson. The Geoff Cameron situation is more uncertain. He played well enough in Jones’ stead that Klinsmann may elect to keep him in as Jones recovers from the concussion he suffered versus Jamaica. Another possibility, although more unlikely, is Klinsmann replacing Evans with Cameron at right back.
That’s all from me today. Add any comments below if you’d like to discuss any of my thoughts in more detail.