On Tuesday night, the United States men’s national team won a shocking 3-2 win over Panama in the final game of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The U.S. got a goal in the 92nd minute from Graham Zusi and then another from Aron Johannsson in the 93rd minute to come back from a 2-1 deficit with only seconds to play.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Over the past five months, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has showed a tremendous amount of patience with Edgar Castillo. Despite numerous poor performances by the left-back, Klinsmann has continued to call Castillo up and continued to give him minutes.
While Castillo usually makes his money going forward on the attack, that element of his game was severely lacking in the first half Tuesday. His lack of attacking prowess only made his defending weaknesses more evident as he was repeatedly caught out of position and coughed up possession in dangerous areas on the pitch.
Castillo’s mistakes in the back led to no less than four Panamanian chances in the first half alone, including the opening goal.
In the second half, however, Castillo looked to be a difference person, being involved in many of the Americans' most dangerous attacks. He was much better in the buildup play, found Terrence Boyd on the back post late in the match with a nice service and got the “hockey assist” on Graham Zusi’s goal.
He also played a ball off the line saving a goal when Brad Guzan was beaten earlier in the half.
It remains to be seen whether or not Castillo ends up on the World Cup roster, but he certainly needs to be much, much more consistent.
Somewhat surprisingly, Klinsmann gave a start at center-back to Michael Orozco. While Orozco started for the team through much of the Gold Cup this summer, he was dropped once the U.S. made the knockout rounds when Matt Besler was brought into the squad.
With the Americans' depth at center-back fairly well established, Orozco is a long shot to make the World Cup squad at the position. But at right-back, a position still up for grabs, Orozco may have a shot.
Last month, against Costa Rica, Orozco was given the start at right-back, and on a night when most of the U.S. lineup played poorly, Orozco did not put in a good shift.
However, Orozco usually plays as an outside back for his club in Liga MX and was playing as an outside back when he scored against Mexico in August 2012 when the U.S. picked up their historic win at the Azteca.
Orozco also has worth to the U.S. on set pieces as he proved during the Gold Cup and against Panama on Tuesday. He’s done enough to get another shot to prove his worth at right-back and get a chance to earn a World Cup roster spot there.
In the 56th minute, Klinsmann decided to sub Brad Davis into the game. The move seemed a good one, as Alejandro Bedoya was not providing much service from the left flank and had been largely invisible during the match.
However, while Davis did enter the game on the Americans' left flank, he did not replace Bedoya and instead replaced Brad Evans as Bedoya was moved to right-back.
With the USMNT's right-back issues well known, the move seemed worth a look but was quickly dispelled as Bedoya was torched time and time again down the Americans' right flank. Bedoya was also lucky to get away with a foul in the box in the 67th minute and gave away the ball right in front of the defense in the 78th minute, resulting in a dangerous Panamanian counter.
The last time the USMNT stepped on the field without Timmy Howard, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey (not counting the January friendlies) was Nov. 17, 2010 when the U.S. took on South Africa.
Fielding a team largely comprised of its “B” players, the U.S. never found its rhythm Tuesday night and looked disjointed for most of the contest.
Jozy Altidore played well despite being held goalless. Especially in the first half, Altidore’s hold-up play was excellent, and he repeatedly linked up with Mix Diskerud in dangerous combinations.
However, Altidore got little help from his wingers, and in a game reminiscent of his matches this year with Sunderland at the club level, he didn’t have a single clear goalscoring chance on the night.
For diehard USMNT fans, the one positive outcome of a loss to Panama was that it would have helped eliminate Mexico from qualifying for the World Cup. However, in the dying seconds, Graham Zusi headed in a 92nd-minute equalizer to end Panama’s hopes of leapfrogging Mexico and kept alive El Tri’s hopes of playing next summer in Brazil.
The goal was followed up seconds later by another, this time from Aron Johannsson, but the damage had already been done.
Panama has been eliminated, and Mexico will be put into a playoff against New Zealand for its final chance at getting into the World Cup.
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