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.