USMNT Report: Headway in the Hex

US clutches top spot in the Hexagonal qualifying group with win over Panama
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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

The United States Men’s National Team did exactly what it was supposed to do last night: handedly defeat a lowly regional side on home soil.

In front of more than 40,000 fans, the US picked up that win in a crucial CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying victory over Panama, winning 2-0 at CenturyLink Field.

US manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad will ride the victory into Sandy, Utah, where they will face Honduras in the final qualifier of this recent stretch.

PANAMA HIGHLIGHTS: From the opening whistle, the Americans were confident on the ball and attacked Panama with a creative style. Michael Bradley had a sure chance early on that deflected off Clint Dempsey, sending the ball out rather than the back of the net.

But it was Jozy Altidore who once again scored the opener off a beautiful ball sent in by Fabian Johnson, whose pass curled around the box and spun right to Altidore’s foot for the put-away.

The Americans held the 1-0 lead until the 53rd minute when hometown hero Eddie Johnson, who plays for MLS’ Seattle Sounders, collected a long ball from Geoff Cameron and blasted it between the posts to increase the US’ lead to 2-0.

With a solid lead, the US pulled off the gas a little bit, which allowed Panama to attack. Los Canaleros occasionally exploited the left side, leaving players wide open for chances at US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who earned 2 saves in the process. DaMarcus Beasley nearly made it 3-0, but his open shot at goal, which came after a 60-yard run and through-ball from Altidore, banged off the left post and sailed out.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: Klinsmann offered a lot of positives in the post-game press conference.

“We were very pleased with our performance,” he said. “I think throughout the entire game we were in control of it. Every area on the field the guys did their job. We prepared them for doing certain things and they executed it 100 percent.”

The former German international and now US manager was also quick to praise the crowd that packed into CenturyLink Field last night.

“Amazing crowd,” he said. “It was just, I think, a wonderful atmosphere that the players enjoyed tremendously – we all did.”

Omar Gonzalez, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, competes in Seattle on occasion. But he was also taken back by the fan atmosphere.

“I thought it was absolutely fantastic,” he said. “The fans were amazing tonight and to hear how loud it got at some points in the game was just really incredible. I’m really happy that we did get to play here in Seattle. For once it’s nice for these fans to be cheering for me.”

One major topic brought up to Gonzalez, Howard and Brad Evans was the chemistry of the defense. Evans, who only recently took up the rightback spot, said it’s getting better.

"I think the chemistry is going well,” he said. “We’re playing well as a unit. Most importantly we’ve got each other's backs and I think we respect each other enough to know that we’re going to make mistakes and it’s up to each other to lift each other up and keep going when mistakes happen.

ANALYSIS: Had the United States underperformed and not played as it did last night, there may be cause for concern. But fans can breathe easy – for a moment – and rejoice in a much-deserved victory.

Panama is a struggling CONCACAF side that has never qualified for the World Cup, and should be a mostly stress-free opponent for the United States. Last night’s clash was an easy way to rack up some points and reach the top of the Hexagonal. The US delivered when it should have.

Much of the success came from the midfield as Bradley and Geoff Cameron both played extremely well. Bradley is reliable and a calming presence on the ball, even when he makes attacking runs up the field. His charge into the attacking third and pass to Johnson set up the Altidore’s goal, and was a clear sign that Bradley can do wonders when he pushes forward a little more.

Cameron also offered great service from the back. His passing was on-point and he held off several Panama possessions. Though we’re used to seeing him play in the back, Cameron did well in the middle of the pitch, and was a superb substitution for Jermaine Jones, who was out with an injury.

If the last 3 contests are any indication, Altidore has become that pure striker that Klinsmann and US fans alike have been looking for. He finished an excellently-placed ball, and played with speed and determination throughout. His laziness, which often made the attacking third non-existent for the US, has disappeared completely in these games. He and Dempsey are playing very well together up top, and they seem to be having fun doing it.

Dempsey’s performance against Panama might be under-looked, but it shouldn’t. For Altidore’s goal, Dempsey sped forward on the center of the pitch and drew defenders around him, which allowed Bradley to relay the ball to Johnson. Dempsey had some chances at goal, too, and was a crucial set-up player inside.

In an ideal world, the US would play this way against every side it faces. A win over Panama will build confidence, sure, but it’s still important to remember that a true power in Belgium toyed with the Americans not too long ago. These wins are good for qualifying for the World Cup and sparking fan interest, but it’s not a clear indicator that the US is now a superior side.

At CenturyLink Field, which showcased one of the most beautiful collections of US soccer fans I’ve seen to date, the supporters chanted in a loud chorus that the US is heading to Brazil. Though untrue mathematically in the CONCACAF standings, it’s very likely the US, Mexico and Costa Rica will all get the automatic bids as they have in years past. But the Hex is far from over, and only about half-way done.

Klinsmann may lay off the heat a bit now with a clear lead and an extra game on the major threat Mexico, but he should make it a point to dominate the group and build up a team with chemistry and cohesion. This lineup – which was mostly the same as the past 2 games, save for Graham Zusi and Jones who were both out with yellow card accumulation and injury, respectively – seems to be getting the job done. Klinsmann should work to build off this team and improve it in whatever ways he can – mostly through fixing the backline.

The Yanks are in a unique position now to really make headway in the Hex and leave Mexico and the minnows far behind. It’s important that Klinsmann keeps his squad motivated and that the USA doesn’t get too far ahead of itself with Honduras on the horizon. There’s still a long way to Rio, and that road won’t offer an easy trek.

NEXT UP: June 18 – WCQ: United States vs. Honduras, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah. 9 p.m. EST, ESPN, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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FC Barcelona
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.