Mar 29, 2017

USA vs. Panama 2017: Final score 1-1, USMNT barely does enough to get point

Struggles in midfield left the USMNT settling for a road point in the Hex against Panama.

It wasn’t a particularly good match and it certainly wasn’t the result they were looking for, but the United States are coming out of Panama with a road point in hand after a 1-1 draw in the Hex round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF. A Clint Dempsey goal was quickly equaled by Panama in the first half, and the US couldn’t find another breakthrough in the second half as they dealt with midfield woes and a heavily physical opponent.

The first half was much rougher on the USMNT in this match than their game on Friday, struggling to even get coherent attacks going at times. Panama realized quickly that the referee was going to be on the lenient side with his whistle and took full advantage of it, playing an extremely physical defense that left US attackers bruised and wondering where their help was supposed to come from.

That physicality and lack of a consistent attacking outlet started to make the rest of the US side struggle. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones struggled to offer any meaningful contribution, and the struggles of the midfielders intended to shield them meant that the USMNT’s makeshift defense struggled at times as well, especially when Panama challenged Graham Zusi with direct balls on counter attacks.

It seemed like the US were going to get some breathing room late in the first half when a brilliant moment of individual play from Christian Pulisic saw him turn both Anibal Godoy and Roman Torres inside out in Panama’s defense, before slipping a delightful ball to Dempsey to tap home and make it 1-0 for the USMNT.

The good feelings from that goal didn’t last long, though. Just four minutes later and after multiple scares for the US defense, Panama scored off a long throw from Adolfo Machado. The USMNT’s set-piece defense was thrown for a loop by the ball, before Gabriel Gomez tapped it easily through Tim Ream and Bradley to equalize just before halftime, a hammer blow to a US side that was just been starting to build confidence in the match.

The second half was a lot more of the same, with the US struggling against Panama’s physicality, and with the Bradley-Jones midfield duo becoming more and more absent throughout the match, to the point of being an active liability to the team at times. Make no mistake, their leadership in this team is valuable, but not so valuable as to outweigh how poor the pair were for long, long stretches of the game against Panama.

Those woes weren’t helped when, instead of taking off one of his struggling veterans, Bruce Arena waited until almost the 70th minute to take out the one midfield player who had been doing well with ball retention (Darlington Nagbe) and replaced him with Alejandro Bedoya. Jones would eventually get lifted for Kellyn Acosta, but that had the feeling of a sub that was too little, too late.

The US midfield was a bit more stable and more capable of entering the game with Bedoya and Acosta on, but by that point the match was essentially finished. The US attackers were too worn down from the long, physical match to do a whole lot with the better possession behind them, but even once Paul Arriola entered in for a run-down Jozy Altidore, they just didn’t have the legs to find a winner.

In the end, a point on the road in a tough place to play like Panama isn’t a bad result — it puts the United States in fourth place in the World Cup qualifying standings in CONCACAF, and just three points behind a suddenly struggling Costa Rica side in second place. That’s a far cry better than the last-place standing the USMNT held coming into the international break, and it gives them something to build on this summer as they work towards securing a spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

United States: Tim Howard; Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Jorge Villafana; Jermaine Jones (Kellyn Acosta 75’), Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe (Alejandro Bedoya 69’), Christian Pulisic; Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (Paul Arriola 82’)

Goals: Dempsey (39’)

Panama: Jamie Penedo; Luis Ovalle, Roman Torres, Felipe Baloy, Adolofo Machado; Alberto Quintero (Joel Barcenas 75’), Anibal Godoy, Gabriel Gomez (Amilcar Henriquez 80’), Armando Cooper; Gabriel Torres, Luis Tejada

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