Years from now, no one will be talking about Tuesday’s clash between the U.S .Men’s National Team in Panama. It was a downright ugly affair, one devoid of much really worth talking about when it comes to the action on the field.
However, years from now, it is a match that could be remembered as vital to the USMNT cause, a point earned in a time where the team really needed one.
The U.S. snagged a point on Tuesday night, and it was a good one. They battled to a 1-1 draw, earning a road draw in one of the region’s toughest environments. Would they have loved three? Sure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get to like getting one.
Tuesday’s performance was up and down, like most in CONCACAF, with several players experiencing moments of genius paired with moments of massive frustration. Regardless, it proved just enough, as the U.S. overcame a shorthanded squad, difficult conditions and a hostile road environment to seal a point.
Here’s a look at several takeaways from Tuesday’s match:
MIXED BAG IN DEFENSE
From the moment the lineup was released, the USMNT defense was revealed to be a focal point. It was a mishmash unit, one filled with players who hadn’t played with each other and, most likely, will never play with each other again.
The results, as expected, were mixed. Each player had his moments of ups and downs, some more than others, as the unit generally put forth a solid effort, all things considered.
Omar Gonzalez was likely the most solid of the bunch. Without John Brooks, Gonzalez provided a presence in the back, lurking to stop a majority of Panama’s attack. He wasn’t perfect, as he was caught upfield once in the second half, but he was generally good enough to justify more gametime as summer looms.
As for Tim Ream, not so much. His play bounced between awful and spectacular throughout the match, one filled with inconsistency. He had a tough time on Panama’s lone goal, but he also tracked back to bail out Gonzalez in the second half. Ream’s nightmares against Panama continue, and they may be a lasting one as the U.S. continues through qualifying.
As for the fullbacks, solid. Graham Zusi may have drawn the ire of some throughout the match, but he was generally okay. He was isolated for a majority of the match and made several big plays. At the end of the day, he’s likely the sixth or seventh-choice right back, so any solid performance from him should be viewed as a major positive. Jorge Villafana was also consistently good as he all but locked down the left back spot heading towards the summer.
BRADLEY, JONES FALTER ONCE AGAIN
For years, the midfield pairing of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones has been an enigma. On Tuesday, the duo once again demonstrated why.
The USMNT’s midfield unit once again failed to combine in any meaningful way in their latest of a long line of ineffective performances together. On Tuesday, their efforts allowed Panama to boss the midfield battle, keeping them on the front foot for a majority of the match.
At the end of the day, Bradley isn’t going anywhere, but Jones is a different story. In Friday’s win over Honduras, Bradley played wonderfully alongside Sebastian Lletget and Alejandro Bedoya, combining well with a technical player that can unite defense and attack. Jones isn’t that, and it showed on Tuesday.
After all of these years, it’s probably time to shelve the Bradley-Jones experiment, but that doesn’t mean the latter doesn’t have a place with this group. Every team can use an enforcer, especially late in matches, and Jones can be just that. As an impact substitute, Jones can wreak havoc, but with several younger players in the fold, he just doesn’t seem to be the USMNT’s best option at starter.
Looking ahead, that spot should go to a Kellyn Acosta or Bedoya or a healthy Lletget, giving the USMNT a more dynamic attacking look in the central midfield.
PULISIC STARS AGAIN
What else is there to say about Christian Pulisic?
Facing a difficult road qualifier, the 18-year-old midfielder was once again the best player on the field for the USMNT. He was confident, he was direct and he was determined as he ran through the Panama defense several times through the first half. His assist was a work of brute beauty, as he muscled through a defender twice his age to feed Dempsey for the tap-in.
However, Pulisic also got a taste of the ugly side of CONCACAF. He was hacked repeatedly, beat up throughout the first 45 minutes. He showed signs of frustration but, generally, kept his cool. It was another sign of maturity from the young midfielder, another display that he’s above everything being thrown his way at such a young age.
Pulisic is undoubtedly the USMNT’s focal point these days, the players looked at to lead the attack. At his age, it’s a position filled with pressure, but his displays over the past week have shown that he’s once again more than ready for the task. Now, he looks to continue his ascension with Borussia Dortmund as he prepares for what comes next.
USMNT EMBRACES BEAUTY OF CONCACAF PLAY
Tuesday night was not a masterpiece. Far from it. However, it was enough to give the U.S. solid footing as World Cup qualifying continues.
Let’s keep it real: Tuesday was ugly. Neither team was very good on the ball, for a variety of reasons. The pitch was downright awful and the play was spotty at best. It was a true CONCACAF game, one which, of course, ended tied due to a poorly defended set piece situation.
Arena set his side up not to lose as the game wore on, and that was fine. Gaining three points was not as important as making sure the USMNT didn’t at least grab one, and Arena knew it. A four-point haul from two games is massive in this sort of competition, one that forgives pretty much anything but losing outright.
Nearly halfway through the Hex, the U.S. is in solid position. They’ve gotten two of the three toughest road matches out of the way, as well as their toughest home match. They’re in a position to succeed, and that’s all anyone could have asked for.