The United States and Panama played to a 1-1 draw Tuesday night in Panama City, Panama, in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match.
Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the first half before Gabriel Gomez canceled out the tally minutes later. It was a defensive struggle, with the two sides combining for seven shots on target.
The United States entered Tuesday night coming off a resounding 6-0 win over Honduras in San Jose, California, last Friday. It was a nice statement from the team in coach Bruce Arena's first World Cup qualifier since succeeding Jurgen Klinsmann.
The U.S. couldn't afford to get too comfortable following the victory. Sitting fifth in the hexagonal, the team still has plenty of work to do to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
MLSsoccer.com's Matthew Doyle also noted how the United States struggled during World Cup qualifying under Klinsmann when hitting the road against Central American opponents:
Matthew Doyle @MattDoyle76
#USMNT went 1-4-1 on road in Central American WCQs under Klinsmann, led just 47 of 540 minutes. Chance to really turn the page tonight.2017-3-29 01:45:48
For much of the first half, the United States struggled to break down a physical, compact Panamanian defense. A moment of individual skill from Christian Pulisic broke the deadlock in the 39th minute.
The Borussia Dortmund midfielder outworked Felipe Baloy to maintain possession just to the right of goal in the 18-yard box. He then eluded Roman Torres just long enough to find a wide-open Dempsey, who didn't miss from close range.
BeIN Sports shared a replay of the goal:
beIN SPORTS USA @beINSPORTSUSA
CAPTAIN TO THE RESCUE! @clint_dempsey gives @ussoccer the lead. #WCQ https://t.co/hAeUElmcut2017-3-29 02:50:42
Fox Sports' Stuart Holden praised Pulisic for providing a creative spark when the U.S. needed it:
Stuart Holden @stuholden
That's the little bit of brilliance you need on the road in a qualifier... Pulisic with poise beyond his years. Dempsey again.. 4 in 2 games2017-3-29 02:48:23
Rachel Bonnetta of Fox Sports enjoyed seeing the on-field rapport between Pulisic and Dempsey:
Rachel Bonnetta @rachelbonnetta
The relationship between Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic is FREAKING GOALS🌹 #usmnt https://t.co/4u3m9KJju72017-3-29 02:48:23
The United States didn't enjoy the 1-0 lead for very long, though. Gomez equalized for Panama in the 43rd minute. It was a defensive breakdown from the U.S., which failed to clear a throw-in from Adolfo Machado. Gomez pounced during the miscommunication, courtesy of beIN Sports:
beIN SPORTS USA @beINSPORTSUSA
GOAAAL! @fepafut level the score after a poor @ussoccer defensive job. #WCQ https://t.co/9GBdeYOEgB2017-3-29 02:54:01
ESPN's Herculez Gomez laid some of the blame at the foot of Tim Ream:
herculez gomez @herculezg
Ream might get reamed at half... don't turn your back on the ball, like, ever. Yet alone on a set piece.2017-3-29 02:52:24
The U.S. nearly gave up a second goal in the 60th minute. Torres headed the ball down to Luis Tejada, who was on the edge of the six-yard box. Tejada looked sure to score, but as he has many times before, Tim Howard made a fantastic save to help the United States dodge a major bullet.
After his team offered little threat in the attacking third, Arena looked content to leave Panama City with a point.
On its own, a draw away to Panama isn't a poor result. As Men in Blazers tweeted, though, it was an underwhelming performance after such a strong showing against Honduras:
Men in Blazers @MenInBlazers
US performance in Honduras Game (left) US performance in Panama Game (right) https://t.co/BzzOiBHaGB2017-3-29 03:40:51
The U.S. still moves into fourth place in the hexagonal, which would mean facing off with the fifth-placed team in the Asian Football Confederation for a place in the World Cup.
Coming into the Honduras and Panama matches, most fans thought four points was the minimum required for the United States to avoid going into panic mode for 2018. The national team did exactly that, which put the qualifying campaign on solid footing with six matches remaining.
Arena felt right at home in his return to World Cup qualifying.
"Nothing changed in these CONCACAF games in the 12 years I was away," he said, per Fox Sports' Fernando Fiore.
Arena also said he was satisfied with the overall performance, per the Associated Press (via ESPN FC): "We made a lot of progress and managed to get through an unusual amount of injuries."
Howard echoed a similar sentiment: "This is probably the most athletic team in CONCACAF, so it's hard to match them. The objective was to get four points. If we got six points we'd be on top of the world. Four is good. We look forward now to June."