USA 1-2 Panama: Sour First Half Dooms Yanks

Clint Dempsey, via NY Daily News

Entering this 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States Men’s National Team had it’s issues. Most figured they would ultimately be exposed in the late stages of the tournament. Instead, those problems, coupled with a lackluster first-half performance, contributed to a 2-1 defeat to Panama in Group C play.

Bob Bradley made no changes from the squad that eased itself to a 2-0 victory over Canada. Perhaps the last 10 minutes of that match were a harbinger of what was to come, as Canada pelted goalkeeper Tim Howard with a number of quality chances in desperation. In those latter stages, the defensive line looked somewhat disorganized and inexperienced, a point of much concern for many entering the Cup. While it took Canada nearly the entire 90 minutes to exploit that pairing, Panama took full advantage of this weakness from the outset.

A questionable foul (and yellow card) was called on Jermaine Jones in the 18th minute. From the ensuing set play, Gabriel Gomez crossed to Eduardo Dasent, who had passed behind the back four. He headed a ball down towards net. Tim Howard got a hand to it, but striker Luis Tejada was there to clean up the rebound to put Panama ahead 1-0.

The troubling part was that the goal wasn’t really against the run of play. While the Yanks had some possession, they were rarely dangerous in the first 45, resorting to weak shots from outside the area. The same could not be said of Panama, who showed much ingenuity in the attack, and ended up putting the US on their heels.

Panama’s second goal came in the 35th minute, as the US continued to struggle to create any kind of meaningful offensive push. Ream was trying to clear the ball from his own half, but he didn’t realize that Blas Perez was closing. As Ream kicked, Perez tipped the ball clear. Ream’s follow-through impeded Perez’ progress, and the penalty was awarded. Gomez then converted from the spot to double the lead.

The performance for the United States was best described as flat. It was as if they expected Panama to roll over and allow them to control this match. The defense was not proactive, but rather reactionary. In soccer, you have to anticipate the opponent’s intentions, and I believe Ream will get there in good time. Unfortunately it will take learning experiences like Saturday night to ripen the young New York back. It wasn’t only Ream, but Panama pretty clearly felt that they could take advantage of a younger back.

The Americans didn’t really get into the match until the final half-hour. Bradley eventually had to admit he needed to get his top offensive threat, Dempsey, into the danger area. So he subbed off Jones (who was unhappy about his removal) and Agudelo (who has been looking gassed after this stretch of training and matches, and brought on Kljestan and Bedoya.

The mounting pressure allowed the US to get a goal back on the set piece, as Donovan’s free kick from near the corner flag in the 67th minute glanced off Michael Bradley’s head, and Goodson was able to lunge forward and head it into the gaping goal.

Bradley later brought off Goodson, perhaps to rest him for Guadeloupe, and entered Wondolowski up front. The move should have paid major dividends with 10 minutes left, as Altidore found Wondo with a cross inside the 6. The San Jose Earthquake volleyed the ball, but he skied it over the crossbar in agonizing fashion. Bradley also had another chance in the area, but could not get the shot on frame.

In my mind, the biggest key is intensity and purpose heading into Guadeloupe. Bob Bradley needs to dial this side up. There was a change after the 60 minute mark with the team, but there needs to be that kind of urgency against teams like Panama from the opening kick. My immediate reaction to their slow start was that of a team who had become complacent after what I’d characterize as a cake walk against Canada. The Gold Cup is our showcase tournament, and no offense to Panama, but we can’t afford to struggle like this against weaker opponents.

In my mind, the United States now needs a dominating performance against Guadeloupe. It’s not so much about getting the best seeding for the knockout phase, but more for the team’s confidence. Belief is needed from this team, both that they can generate offense, and also being able to bury the chances when they come. I do believe this team is as talented as Mexico, but Mexico doesn’t have the frail psyche that the US displayed early in this match.

As for changes, I think there’s no doubt that you need to bring Oguchi Onyewu back into the picture. Soccer can be harsh, and it should certainly mean that Ream would need to be sacrificed for the time being. Ream has gotten two matches worth of big-game international experience now, I don’t think it will stunt any growth to have him provide depth at back for the rest of this tournament. I also think we need a slightly more offensively-minded holding midfielder, namely Maurice Edu. Michael Bradley was not on his game last night, and having a guy like Edu there who can be a second option in linking the attack. Finally, I think the elder Bradley needs to juggle the forwards up front a bit. I don’t think we can afford to be coddling along both Altidore and Agudelo at the same time up front. Whether it be Dempsey or Wondolowski (regardless of his miss tonight), we need someone who knows how to finish up front.

The final game in the group stage against Guadeloupe starts at 9 PM on Tuesday night, shown both on Fox Soccer Channel as well as . After the match, I’ll be appearing on our own Daniel Feuerstein’s podcast, which will start at 11 PM right after the match. We’ll break down the match and hopefully look forward to the remainder of the tournament.

23 thoughts on “USA 1-2 Panama: Sour First Half Dooms Yanks”

  1. Meaningless. I looked to see if this means that the US would meet Mexico in the semi-final instead of the final. It doesn’t.

    Interesting that the Mexico games look like they have much bigger crowds.

    1. Yeah, I watched Mexico-Cuba on Univision the other day, that stadium was either sold out, or very close to sold out. The fact that a game with USA and Canada couldn’t break 30,000 in Detroit, but I guess it shows how far the US has to grow, or how poor the publicity for this tournament is.

      1. People in Detroit don’t care about soccer. It just doesn’t get much exposure here unless it is World Cup time.

    2. This goes back to what I was saying before about friendlies against Mexican/South American sides would be more successful than the B-squads for EPL teams.

  2. Bradley is impossible to defend now. They’ve played horrible football at times since the World Cup and actually during the World Cup.

    Let me know when Charles is here so he can defend this immensely “deep” squad Bradley trots out there as it craps its pants against inferior teams time and time again.

    I don’t think this team can beat Mexico. They’ve gotten much much worse over the last few years and this pattern of piss-poor starts can be traced to WCQ. Anyone remember both El Salvador games? The home match against Honduras? The disaster at Saprissa?

    Thanks for playing, Bob. Now GTFO.

    1. 2-4-4 since the World Cup, including a lucky draw with Chile and a lucky draw with Argentina, a beat down from Spain and a beat down from Brazil. Beat Mexico? At this point, they probably could not stay on the field with this Mexican team.

      1. The friendlies to Spain and Brazil bothered me because the US was not even competitive. Brazil stuck their B team and youngsters and schooled us. They played decent soccer against Argentina but that was after a horrendous first half. The common theme is they all play a possession-style game which is our kryptonite.

        What pisses me off is the fact that they don’t come out prepared. It’s been obvious since WCQ and frankly I am on record as saying that if you take away Donovan and Howard, the engine of the team and the GK who saves this pathetic defense time and time again respectively, the US would either not qualify for the World Cup or would be in a playoff.

        BB can’t just hang onto Donovan’s goal in Algeria anymore. And neither can the media. Heads need to roll and the Gold Cup result be damned, the US has played terrible football as of late and have shown no signs of improvement since the Ghana game.

    2. Totally agree. It’s a friggin mystery that Bradley was rehired after the world cup during his while campaign we list games we should have won and woken up only after one or two goals goes in the back of our net. American players may have evolved into better players able to take it to other teams but American coaches especially bob do not know how to manage a team. We need a more experienced coach to not only bring up our team but also bring up American coaches. I appreciate USSF ambition to field a all American squad but our usmnt is very very weak if by some miracle we make it to the finals Mexico will destroy USA with the way they are playing and we are flopping. I totally agree Bob can’t find shelter he’s impossible to defend you’d have to be either his son his wife or a ignorant fool to still find bob a asset. During panama our team was stagnant and sluggish.

      And as for Charles he only shows up when he smells “euro snobs” he’s a troll for euro trolls. You have to say mls or usmnt sucks or something he considers euro snobbish in order for him to show up. Otherwise he’s just a fanboy myth

  3. I’m surprised more isn’t being made out of Bedoya. I watched on the web stream, b/c my in-laws don’t have FSC and when they showed the angle of the replay Bedoya touched the ball before the keeper (unintentionally) grabbed his leg while diving at the ball. When I saw it in the run-of-play, it did look like a pretty bad dive. When I saw it DVR’d from FSC, it also looked like a dive. However on the web stream it looked pretty obvious that it should have been a PK or a no-call, the yellow on Bedoya was pretty poor officiating. Or maybe I’m just a homer, either way if he had gotten the PK, and Donovan (most likely) converted it would have been a game they didn’t deserve a draw out of.

    I also wonder about Bradley’s (Michael not Bob) fitness. I have recently rejoined a gym, the first time going I ran three miles like it was nothing, it was no big deal. I went again today (about two days later) and could barely run 2. Bradley played his brains out against Canada and we all thought that his fitness was fine, but he looked lethargic against Panama. I love the kid, I’m not one of those who believes he wouldn’t be on the team without his father, but in this situation Bradley should have been subbed off at the half.

    1. Abram:
      I was at the game on Saturday, on the sidelines where the Bedoya penalty no call happened. It was the correct call…no contact, Bedoya went down way before the Panama goalie streched his hands. I haven’t seen any replays on TV, and the crowd went bonkers, but from I what I saw, it was a clear dive and a deserved yellow card…

  4. What kind of shape did the team have after the substitutions? Bob Bradley seems WAY to wedded to the idea of starting with a 4-4-2, even though it always backfires, resulting in him having to make changes during the game. Kudos to him for often making the right changes, but he seems to never learn the lesson about his starting line-up.

      1. Honestly when he made the changes for the first few minutes his substitutes look confused. They didn’t know what they were suppose to be doing and what role they should play on the field.

    1. Hard to tell with the first subs. Like Derek says, they were a mess for a while. A 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 I guess. With the final sub they moved into a 3-4-3 and looked much stronger IMHO.

      1. I agree that BB is way to committed to the idea of a 4-4-2 tactical formation. It would seem that with the lack of quality at forward and with the attacking qualities of Donovan and Dempsey on the wings, a 4-2-3-1 formation would seem to be the correct formation for this squad. As Tuttle pointed out, when BB has switched to this formation or even to the 3-4-3 (due to our lack of a true LB) we have played much better. Regardless though, BB has to do a better job getting the team up for the actual start of the match. If we do not win or even get to the final, BB should be fired enough is enough.

        1. Our best two outfield players are Dempsey and Donovan (at least in theory). I’d definitely like to see a 4-2-3-1 formation on Tuesday: Cherundolo-Goodson-Onyewu-Bocanegra; Edu-Bradley; Donovan-Dempsey-Rogers; Altidore. I think that formation would accentuate Dempsey and Donovan’s abilities, as opposed to putting our lack of depth at striker on display.

          My subs would be Hahnemann, Ream, Lichaj, Jones, Kljestan, Adu, Agudelo.

          1. Have you guys not seen when USA plays a 4–2-3-1? Its bunch ball in the middle with no width! I’d rather see a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 than a 4-2-3-1.

            After the performance against Canada and Pananma I’d have to say Mexico is the clear favorite. They are relentless and their attackers have all the confidence right now. Mexico is fluid off the ball and their full backs are getting forward. All the things USA wish they could be. MEXICO MEXICO MEXICO!

          2. Yes Robert, we know, Mexico is great and everything. They’re playing well.

            Regarding the formation, this was the US formation in question that you are referencing:

            Spector-Demerit-Bocanegra-Onyewu; Jones-Bradley; Donovan-Edu-Dempsey; Altidore

            Here is my rebuttal:

            1) Dempsey played as a wing against Argentina, and I think he would be better as the central attacking mid. He scored two goals against Bolton for Fulham in that exact role in that exact formation towards the end of the EPL season.

            2) With Dempsey in the center of the park, Donovan doesn’t need to be coming inside as much as he did having Maurice Edu, who does not really strike me as a guy who is going to give you much offensive impetus.

            3) What this really leads to is more of a 4-2-4 formation, with Bradley being your deep-lying playmaker, and Dempsey in turn becomes a guy who lies deeper, but has both creativity and finishing ability.

            4) Let’s not forget the right fullback in that Argentina match. Spector has not shown himself to be of the quality of Cherundolo. He can provide width out of the back, and Edu would be there to help in the case of the counter attack (see note below).

            5) Finally, with Rogers on the left as a true winger, you don’t need Bocanegra charging out of the back as much. Rogers should have the skill set to make runs and cross from the byline.

            Note: I’ve reconsidered, and the one change I’d make from what I originally proposed would be to use Jermaine Jones in the defensive midfield role instead of Maurice Edu.

          3. I still think a 3-5-2 would suit this squad best. Pushing wingers up from the back line leaves us way too exposed IMO.

            Dolo, Gooch and Boca in back, Bradley acting as a libero/regista or pushing up as a trequartista if more offensively minded, Edu and Jones as somewhat wide holding midfielders, Kljstan and Rogers (maybe, this is the most open spot) on the wings and Dempsey and Donovan up front as kind of false 9/10s (and a patent admission that we have no true 9 or 10).

            Almost a 3-7-0. Heck, we may have the players to pull off a pale imitation of that Man U/Roma 4-6-0 from a couple of years ago, but we certainly don’t have the coach for it.

  5. This loss was not a big factor in the scheme of the tournament. But I felt this was a typical US match, 60 minutes of going through the motions and 30 minutes of playing. I didn’t even notice Donovan on the pitch until the late 2nd half. These guys play a lot with there clubs and the starting 11 are just now really learning to play with each other. However I still believe we are the favorite to win the Gold Cup. My biggest concern is Bob Bradley, and not his tactics but motivation, I have not seen a US Team play 90 minutes of good football under him since US vs England in the World Cup. His media relations are lacking, (We need to take a queue from the New York Jets coach, two years ago they lucked there way into the playoffs, and had no chance of winning, yet the coach continually said that they were the favorites and the team though they lost made several impressive performance surpassing everyone’s expectations) The point being is we need confidence, we have the talent but all I hear from Bradley, Donavan and every other play is the standard “I hope we can play our best and do well” You’re a professional this isn’t grammar school, if your not here to win then watch from the stands.

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