U.S. Men's National Team

McCarty, Acosta struggle as USMNT loses midfield battle in tie with Panama

Photo by Jim Brown/USA Today Sports

There were a number of reasons the U.S. Men’s National Team didn’t look its best against Panama on Saturday, and there were a number of factors that prevented the UMSNT from earning more than a point from Saturday’s Gold Cup opener.

Performances, both individual and collective, were poor, and the USMNT’s inability to win the battle in the central midfield was what doomed them on Saturday afternoon.

Following the team’s win over Ghana, there were plenty of reasons for optimism. The team’s defense, pegged as a strength, was looking strong around a core of World Cup veterans. The midfield duo of Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta seemingly had the perfect blend of experience and energy to balance out the central midfield. The attack, a major question mark, was looking good spearheaded by Dom Dwyer.

Against Ghana, the midfield duo was perhaps the most impressive. On Saturday, they were nonexistent.

“I thought we didn’t deal well with their pressure, especially in the midfield,” Bruce Arena said. “We turned the ball over way too much. We didn’t do a good job of establishing a rhythm and getting our team more involved in the game.

“I thought, defensively we didn’t go a good enough job getting pressure on the ball and dealing with some of their numbers in wide positions in time,” Arena said. “We can be better at that. We had some players on the field where it was a little bit difficult them at times today.

“Our passing wasn’t good on the day,” Arena continued. “Therefore, it forces us to defend more than we should and takes energy out of us. Overall, I thought the difference in the game was the way Panama pressured the ball in the middle third of the field and we didn’t do well when we turned the ball over.”

The credit goes to Panama stars Anibal Godoy and Miguel Camargo. The latter scored Panama’s lone goal of the match while Godoy was frequently disrupting the USMNT attack. In a battle of MLS-based midfield units, Los Canaleros were the clear winner.

McCarty was largely invisible throughout the match in an uncharacteristically disjointed performance. He didn’t move the ball particularly well or play those driving through balls to help ignite the attack. His defensive work was also atypical as he wasn’t truly effective at breaking up Panama’s play.

His partner, Acosta turned in a performance that reminded you that he’s still only 21 years old. For the past several months, Acosta has been playing well above his birth year but Saturday’s performance showed he still had a lot to learn. He was caught sleeping on Panama’s lone goal and he showed little of his newfound attacking game in the final third.

The maturity was there from the FC Dallas star, though, as he took to Twitter following a game that saw Panama dominate the central midfield.

Arena said to give Panama plenty of credit. The Canaleros pressured the USMNT throughout the second half, especially after Dywer’s goal. Aside from the moment of magic between Dwyer and fellow newcomer Kelyn Rowe, the USMNT really didn’t do much on the attacking end. It was a “sloppy” performance Arena said, and that term could be used to describe a number of U.S. units.

The good news? It gets easier from here, at least in theory. Martinique and Nicaragua don’t present the same challenge as perennial Hexagonal contender Panama. Knockout round qualification is hardly in danger, even after a less-than-inspiring performance from Arena’s team.

To advance any further, though, they’ll need to do better in the midfield. Arena likely won’t panic off one performance, but Acosta and McCarty will need to step up if the two want to push on with bigger roles after the Gold Cup.

  • GH

    Acosta did struggle. I like his motor (he runs all day box to box) but in the last 3 games going back to Mexico, at least 2 tines each game he has missed a clear opportunity to stop a counter with a good clean foul in the middle the field. (This us honestly the only 3 times i have seen him play). Each led to goals or good opportunities for Mexico, Ghana and Panama. He has good attacking vision but too often his through balls or forward passes are intercepted. Gets way too easily dispossed. McCarty is a poor mans Bradley. Bad turn overs off simple passes, and does not do much to connect the attack. Fair but not dominant defensively. Hes not the answer but maybe the backup 6. Acosta mught get there and gis still in the mix but he needs to get tougher. His set pieces have not been good either. He has good bend but that does nothing if it doesnt get beyond the first defender on the corners more often than not.


  • Kung Fu Kangaroos

    Hope to see Danny Williams make strides in England. He could be the backup / future 6 we need.


  • recovered amishman

    Today’s game is a good reminder of why Jermaine Jones may still have a future on the USMNT. McCarty and Acosta let themselves get pushed around by hard play and put off their rhythm by hard fouls from behind. JJ would have dished it right back and then some. Seeing the ref was going to tolerate hard fouls, he would have least tried to break up some of those counter attacks early, whereas our mids were always in full retreat or chasing from behind.


  • VIc

    We should be looking at Daniel Williams and Alfedro Morales much better passers. Player for the future: Joel Sonora and Alejandro Guido in def midfield positions.


    • Patrick Gillespie

      100% right on. These 2 have been major sacrifices as the altar of auto-starter Michael Bradley.


      • Big Red

        Don’t forget Hyndman, who has always been better and started over Acosta.


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