USMNT Report: Problems Arise for Panama Tilt

Unsavory pitch, disjointed midfield creates small issues for the US
by Herb Scribner   |   Tuesday, June 11, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

Anyone who thought the US Men’s National Team current run of World Cup Qualifiers would be a cake walk was proven wrong within the last week.

After barely beating Jamaica 2-1 in Kingston, the Americans return to home soil for a clash with Panama at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

But some Americans – Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez – won’t make the lineup, and the pitch – normally turf – has turned into a bumpy concern for some of the USA roster.

JAMAICA HIGHLIGHTS: Neither the US nor Jamaica started off soundly in the opening minutes of the qualifier. Long balls bounced from end to end as the 2 sides competed in ping-pong soccer. Jamaica showed aggression – a borderline barbarian form –and the US maintained as best it could.

The Americans found success in the 30th minute when Zusi, with a mere inch of space and on a run, crossed the ball to Jozy Altidore, who scored his second goal in 2 matches after a near 2-year spell without scoring.

Though the US closed out the 1st half with poise and calm play, Jamaica outran the Americans in the next 45-minute period. The Americans showed tired legs and were sloths compared to the speedy Reggae Boyz.

All of that led to a Jamaican goal in the 89th minute when a group of Jamaicans, specifically Jermaine Beckford, beat the US backline off a free kick to knot the score at 1-1.

True to form, the Americans didn’t let the clock reach its final tick without a fight. Michael Bradley created something out of nothing in the 92nd minute, finding enough space to connect with rightback Brad Evans, who lofted a shot into the net to give the Americans the 2-1 win.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: After defeating Jamaica, US manager Jurgen Klinsmann said he expects tonight’s contest to be difficult despite Seattle’s often-touted fan culture.

“Every game is difficult,” he said. “Panama will be very difficult in Seattle. We’ll need big support from the fans and need total commitment in every one of these games. I think our team is good enough and has enough quality to qualify for the World Cup but we have to be ready for the battle, ready for different circumstances and places.”

Despite the injuries surrounding the US, Klinsmann doesn’t seem to be worried about how his team will be affected.

Seattle will be buzzing with fan support, too. Clint Dempsey said the fan atmosphere made him think he was in another country.

ANALYSIS: After its dramatic yet undeserved victory over Jamaica, the US faces another large step as it tries to qualify for the World Cup when it faces Panama. Mainly, tonight will test the depth of the American side.

But it’ll be without Zusi, who has been crucial for the USA in recent affairs. The Sporting KC player earned his 2nd yellow card in qualification and won’t take the pitch in Seattle. And Jermaine Jones suffered an apparent concussion against Jamaica, which takes him out of the lineup. The always viable attacking option in Herculez Gomez was also ruled out by Klinsmann after his own injury.

Just when Klinsmann settled on his lineup – starting the same lineup 2 matches in a row for the 1st time during his USA tenure – he’ll have to rebuild and rework to face the always physical Panama. Jones’ sometimes brutish play would fit in well had he not suffered an injury. Geoff Cameron, at 6’3” and 185 lbs., might be the best option out of Klinsmann’s current collective to fill that role.

Zusi’s absence will be the most glaring as he’s built wonderful chemistry with Altidore in the recent stretch. Brad Davis could be brought in on the left to provide more opportunities than Fabian Johnson has offered from the left, and that might make up for the lack of Zusi.

But Klinsmann will likely bring Sacha Kljestan to fill the attacking midfield role since he recently played in the Belgium match. That’s not saying much, though, since he was virtually unrecognizable in the 4-2 loss and has never, at least to me, anyway, been a national team starter.

But Klinsmann’s been known to tinker with the US lineup, and we should expect nothing less heading into tonight’s clash. Whoever fills Zusi’s spot will have to connect well with Altidore to keep his scoring streak going. Bradley might have to push forward a little more, too, which could be beneficial given how calmly he acted on the ball against Jamaica.

The win over Jamaica wasn’t necessarily a deserved win. The Americans held a 1-0 lead only to squander it due to slow speed and a lackadaisical backline that let Team Jamaica slip through in the dying minutes. Crucial moments like those will be daggers for the US if it qualifies for the World Cup and makes it to Brazil next year, especially since the Yanks would be facing some of Europe’s and South America’s best and not the lowly Jamaica.

Against Panama, the Americans can’t afford to give up goals late, even if they’re playing on a sub-par pitch and with a disordered squad. A win by Panama would put Los Canaleros ahead of the US in the table and make matters more difficult. Right now, US has a chance to stream ahead of the group and its rival Mexico, which holds 7 points but has played an extra game.

Hopefully for the US, Klinsmann can find a way to balance out the losses of Jones and Zusi. It’ll be a true test of depth as the lineup will be stretched, something that might have been avoidable had a certain pair of US internationals – who played each other this past weekend in MLS, funny enough – had been included in the squad.

NEXT UP: June 11 – WCQ: United States vs. Panama, CenturyLink Field, Seattle. 9:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.