The United States men’s national team defeated Panama 2-0 on Tuesday night in front of a boisterous home crowd in Seattle, Washington.
The game was an impressive performance by the U.S. and vaulted the team to the top of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal.
Here are six things we learned.
In the first half, Brad Evans was beaten time and time again down the U.S.’ right flank.
The Panamanian attackers did a nice job using their speed and a series of overlapping runs to take advantage of Evans repeatedly.
Luckily for Evans, and the U.S., Panama couldn’t take advantage of any of the chances they created. On one chance the attacker fell down, and there was no call after contact with Evans in the box on another chance. On two other times, the Panamanian shots went over the crossbar, and center-backs Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez bailed Evans out on two other occasions.
Evans could have benefitted from more defensive help from right winger Eddie Johnson (Johnson replaced Graham Zusi, who has been excellent defensively), but overall, Evans' performance was nothing like the one he put in against Germany just last week.
Omar Gonzalez defending
Even as the U.S. has picked up two wins over the past week, first in a friendly against Germany and then in an away win against Jamaica, the U.S. back line looked in constant disarray. And that’s to say nothing of the U.S.’ disastrous performance against Belgium just 13 days ago.
On Tuesday night against Jamaica, the center of the U.S. defense was only badly beaten once the entire night. Overall, both Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez put in very solid efforts.
Besler, in particular, was terrific (it was Gonzalez’s fault on Panama’s lone breakaway), but overall the organization and composure of the American defense was exponentially better than it has been over the past two weeks.
Perhaps Panama’s attack was just poor, or perhaps, more encouragingly, the U.S.’ young center-back tandem is finally starting to gel.
Jozy Altidore scored the game-winning goal on Tuesday night, but his best contribution to the U.S.’ win was his hold-up play.
Time and time again against Panama, Altidore worked back for the ball to form dangerous combinations with Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. The U.S. attack looked the best it has under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and Altidore’s play was a huge part of that success.
Geoff Cameron, who struggled mightily against Belgium at right-back, was inserted into the holding central midfield role for the concussed Jermaine Jones.
Cameron’s performance was a revelation for the U.S. His hard work defensively helped protect and cover for the U.S.’ back line, and his passing helped jump-start the U.S.’ attack.
Although for most of the game he hung back, allowing Michael Bradley to bomb forward, Cameron also contributed the assist on Eddie Johnson’s goal with a remarkable pass to the streaking winger.
The Jermaine Jones-Michael Bradley central midfield tandem has become the preferred choice for the U.S. under Jurgen Klinsmann, and Jones’ performances over the past few games have proved his value to the USMNT.
However, when Jones and Bradley are deployed together, it is, more often than not, Bradley who occupies the holding role while Jones roams forward. Jones is a skilled passer and does well to contribute to the attack, but frankly, Bradley is an even better attacking force than Jones.
Jones traditionally plays the holding role with his club, Schalke, and it may be time for Klinsmann to reverse the No. 6 and No. 8 roles within the U.S. squad to keep Jones home and allow Bradley to be the U.S.’ box-to-box midfielder.
With the win against Panama, the U.S. pushed its way to the top of the hexagonal with 10 points from its first five games. A win against Honduras next week would virtually guarantee the U.S. a spot in the 2014 World Cup.
Heading into the Honduras match, Klinsmann will face a few lineup questions such as who to start in the center of the midfield after Cameron’s outstanding performance. Another big question for Klinsmann will be who replaces DaMarcus Beasley at left-back. Beasley will miss the match due to yellow-card accumulation after being cautioned in the 92nd minute of the Panama match.
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