The USA’s 2-1 win over Panama today in the Gold Cup was a clear indication that the squad still isn’t hitting on all cylinders. The free flowing attacking play down the flanks we saw in the group stage all but disappeared today, and save the one really good ball from DeMarcus Beasley that Landon Donovan would normally finish for a goal, American midfielders failed to find space in a stingy Panama defense. In fact I would say that Beasley and Donovan were probably the only two American players that looked good today.
Taylor Twellman and Clint Dempsey failed to provide the strong attacking play Saturday that they had previously in this tournament. Twellman who has been subject of much revisionism following the US’ first round exit in Germany 2006 showed today precisely why Bruce Arena dropped him from the World Cup squad and took Brian Ching and Josh Wolff instead. Twellman for all his great work off the ball lacks the confidence to finish good chances on this level. The fact that Twellman is far more accomplished goal scorer in MLS than Ching (or than Brian McBride was before he moved to England) seems to mean nothing on this level.
The US backline is a mess. For all his experience, Frankie Hedjuk still commits the same fouls that got him booked ten years ago for the national team. While Carlos Bocanegra scored a nice goal off a set piece today, his positioning on the back line needs some serious improvement. One good thing I can say about the defense is that after a shaky first half Oguchi Onyewu settled down towards the end of the match and did not allow himself to be baited into a red card as he was versus Guatemala.
Right now Canada is playing better football than the US. Despite a large talent gap between the two nations, the US can no longer take its northern neighbor for granted. Canada, whose national team is in transition seems to be taking this tournament very seriously (as they always do since it is the biggest event they play in) has got to like their chances of upsetting the US. The trio of Paul Stalteri, Dwayne DeRossario, and Julián de Guzmán are playing as well as anyone in the tournament.
A loss to Canada would be embarrassing for the US and would set the national program back many years from a perception standpoint. I certainly hope our players are focused and ready for the challenge as it would make Canada’s decade if they could finally beat the US, especially in this venue. In 2002, months before the US went to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup and a year after Canada had been eliminated from World Cup qualifying by finishing last in its second round group, we needed penalty kicks to beat Canada in the Gold Cup semifinals. Let’s hope the players from that 2002 team like Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley and Pablo Mastroeni recall that and are prepared to leave it all on the pitch Thursday night.