USA vs. Panama: Another Rematch…

by Luis Eduardo Flores

Don’t you just love tournament final rematches in group stages? The 2013 Gold Cup finalist; USMNT and Panama once again met in another crucial game.

Tonight was their 8th Gold Cup meeting. The USMNT currently leads Panama with 5 wins (one draw). Panama’s last Gold Cup victory over the USMNT was back in 2011 (Group C). Panama beat the USMNT 2-1 to claim 1st place in the group. In their semi-final rematch, the USMNT beat Panama 1-0 to reach the finals (and then lose 4-2 to Mexico). Beating Panama in the 2013 Gold Cup final wasn’t enough. Panama was eliminated during the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with a late goal by Graham Zusi. Panama’s elimination gave Mexico a ticket to a play-off match against New Zealand. Pretty much, the Canal Men have every right to hold a grudge against the Stars and Stripes. Apart from the Mexico vs. USA rivalry, Panama vs. USA should be another CONCACAF rivalry.

Panama came into this match with their usual starters and their flat 4-4-2 formation. Panama’s first two games against Haiti and Honduras were relatively underwhelming. In both games, Panama settled for 1-1 draws. For a team that is considered to be a top CONCACAF team, those results were not expected.

The USMNT used a modified 4-4-2 formation with a focus on defending. Honestly, the Champions have also underperformed in their matches against Haiti (1-0) and Honduras (2-1); barely beating them.

Right from the get-go, the game started with a foul Gyasi Zardes in Panama’s defensive half. Panama didn’t capitalize off the free kick; instead the USMNT was able to regain possession. Once John Anthony Brooks got a hold of the ball, he tried a through ball to Chris Wondolowski; but it was ruled offside.

At the 7th minute, Panama’s Eric Davis tried a left footed shot from outside the box but his attempt was blocked. Three minutes later, Davis tried a through ball to Luis Tejada. Tejada scored, but his goal was ruled offside.

The US put Panama in grave danger at the 16th and 18th minutes. First, Alejandro Bedoya tried a right footed shot from a difficult angle was saved in the top center of the goal. Bedoya had Wondo to thank for the assist.

Captain Michael Bradley was next. Kyle Beckerman provided Bradley with the assist for an awesome long distance shot. Panama’s Jamie Penedo (LA Galaxy) block led to a US throw in. From the US throw, Panama easily regained possession. How?
Panama’s possession didn’t last long; Roman Torres conceded a corner for the US. Bradley took the corner, but the attempt went out-of-bounds for Panama goal kick.
Upon possession, Panama did not hesitate on adding pressure on the US defense. US’ Brad Guzan was put to the test in the following moments. Panama tried a through ball for a on-target shot. Guzan successfully blocked the 1st shot and then a 2nd to concede a corner. Guzan was on point for those two blocks. On the 2nd corner, Guzan was able to punch the ball out. Due to a foul on the US defensive end by Panama, Guzan was awarded a free kick.

Panama was solid on keeping possession from the midfield to the US defensive end. Due to a weak US defensive line, Luis Tejada provided Blas Perez the assist that led to the first goal of the game.

Given the less than impressive performance by the US defense, Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to reconsider using a different formation or start Omar Gonzalez or Brad Evans over Alvarado or Brooks. Seriously, they are the weakest link the in the US defense. The proof was right there again when Tejada got another chance to score outside the box. Despite the fact that Tejada missed, it doesn’t excuse the defense’s inability to prevent this chances for Panama.

Right before the end of the 1st half, Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy) won a free kick on the attacking half due to foul by Anibal Godoy (given a yellow card). The chance in the closing moments produced nothing for the US. With that, the whistle was blown to end the 1st half.

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The 1st half was very exciting; especially for Panama’s supporters. Panama was definitely the stronger team in during the half. The US defense was weak and uninspiring. Offensively, they were going good, but it wasn’t enough.

Finally, the Panama’s defense gave in. At the 55th minute, Captain Michael Bradley scored (assisted by Bedoya). It was around this time the US was trying harder. Maybe it’s somewhat late, but not too late.

60 minutes into the game, and the US got a tremendous scare. Right inside their own penalty box, the US got in a strong slide tackle. The replay showed that the slide tackle was clean; no penalty kick for Panama. With that call, the “it was penalty” complaints started on behalf of Panama supporters.

Defensively, Panama is showing themselves to be a really resilient in both ways; especially defensively. Offensively; they were still effective. Miguel Camargo got in two shots; both at the 73rd and 75th minute. Guzan managed to save both shots and the game for the US. After Camargo’s attempt, Roberto Nurse also managed a shot (header from the center of the box), but he missed.

Beckerman tried to further the US lead with a shot of his own. Beckerman’s left footed shot from outside the box was close yet a miss (assisted by Bradley). About another five minutes later, Captain America gave it another go with a right footed shot to the right of the box. Penedo successfully blocked the shot. It’s likely that the LA Galaxy are missing him at the moment. The game reached the point in which the US was trying it’s best to shatter Panama’s defensive wall. Yet, they were incapable of doing so. The reigning Gold Cup champions had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

It was really a hard fought game on both sides. The US barely led the possession with a 53.7% over Panama’s 46.3%. Attacking wise, the US only managed 8 shots with only 3 being on-target (37.5%). Panama’s defense really held its own really well with barely allowing any shots. The US weak defense somehow held its own against Panama’s 7 on-target shots out of 13 (53.8%). When it came down to their passing game, Panama takes the cake. The US managed 464 passes with 84.1% passing accuracy to Panama’s 390 passes and 85.9% accuracy. This also includes Panama’s 20 successful crosses to the US’ 6 unsuccessful crosses.

Given another lackluster USMNT performance, they don’t look likely to retain their title. This is not a matter of the team missing Landon Donovan or Tim Howard. The team itself is missing a certain spark that led them to five straight Gold Cup finals since 2005. Then again, CONCACAF cannot be dominated only by Mexico or the USMNT. Panama is championship material and the US know it.

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Photo: usasoccer.com, thebentmusket.com.

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