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U.S. Men's National Team

USMNT 1, Panama 1: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Andrew Nelles/USA Today Sports

Well, that wasn’t pretty. Saturday’s match between the U.S. Men’s National Team and Panama was far from a modern classic. It didn’t capture the hearts of those who watched and it certainly didn’t offer much in the way of beautiful soccer.

What it did offer, though, was a look at where this USMNT group stands, and the picture isn’t quite as rosy as it was following the team’s win over Ghana a week ago. That’s not to say there weren’t standout moments or performances but, by and large, Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Panama was a humbling one.

Star goalkeeping helped protect several defensive lapses while Dom Dwyer’s scoring touch continued to serve as the biggest story of camp so far. Saturday’s match was just another mere glimpse into several key storylines, but it was a revealing one.

Here’s a look at several of the big takeaways from Saturday:

DWYER PROVIDES SCORING TOUCH AGAIN

Let’s get it out of the way. Dom Dwyer didn’t have his best game. He was relatively absent in the USMNT attack, for a variety of reasons. He had few legitimate chances and was generally quiet through 90 minutes.

But he got his one chance, and he buried it, making his case even stronger going forward.

Dwyer’s shot early in the second half proved the lone USMNT goal, and it also proved Dwyer’s lone opportunity. In a hot, grind-em-out, mess of a game, Dwyer seized his chance and tucked it into the lower corner. It was a striker’s goal, one that showed a mix of positional awareness with his idea to drop back and ruthless finishing as his shot pinpointed the bottom corner.

Through two games, Dwyer now has as many goals, signaling as solid a start to his USMNT career as anyone could have hoped. There are still so many variables in play between now and fall qualifiers, but it’s hard to say Dwyer hasn’t at least earned a discussion with regards to a place with the real national team.

Until then, though, Arena will have a hard time getting Dwyer out of the USMNT lineup through the Gold Cup. If he keeps scoring, Arena will have no choice but to ride Dwyer ahead of the talented young forwards on the U.S. roster.

ROUGH DAY FOR CORONA

Joe Corona wasn’t the only USMNT player to struggle. Virtually everyone made some sort of mistake on the day and very few made any real positive impact on the match. However, his issues were among the more jarring, especially given how good he was against Ghana.

To say Corona couldn’t find his rhythm is an understatement. He rarely got on the ball and, when he did, he did nothing with it. It was a far cry from the decisive, free-flowing performance against the Black Stars, one which seemingly reignited his national team career.

He needed to do more, even if he wasn’t the only one. Without Corona clicking, you could see how disjointed the USMNT attack was. With McCarty and Acosta also struggling, the U.S. had little chance.

With players like Paul Arriola and Juan Agudelo out of the starting lineup, the U.S. has other options for creativity, but one would expect Corona to get another chance to show that he can be more like the Ghana Corona than the Panama Corona.

FULLBACKS FLOUNDER

Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez did well enough at centerback. They were okay, nothing special. The fullbacks on either side of them, though, left a lot to be desired.

Graham Zusi looked like the defender that is still very much adjusting to the fullback position on Saturday. He routinely failed to step up in dangerous situations, giving Panama attackers space to operate and, at times, fire on goal. It’s a lesson that will be learned with experience at the position, growing pains for a player still adjusting to playing in defense.

Jorge Villafana has no such excuse like inexperience or unfamiliarity. In the attack, he remains solid but his one-on-one defending remains a legitimate weakness. Against teams like Martinique and Nicaragua, sure, you can get away with being a little bit more attacking. But a team like Panama? Nope.

With Eric Lichaj on the bench, Arena has a ready-made replacement on either side. It remains to be seen when and if he’ll use it, but don’t be surprised to see Lichaj in the mix for the next two matches.

GUZAN STEPS UP

No matter where you stand on the USMNT goalkeeping debate, you have to give props to Brad Guzan.

It’s rarely a good look when your goalkeeper is as busy as Guzan was on Saturday. He was almost certainly the USMNT’s best player on the field, fortunately for a U.S. team that put together a number of impressively bad defensive breakdowns on the day.

Guzan didn’t have to make a million saves a la Tim Howard against Belgium. When all was said and done, he had five stops. But none of those five were softballs. Each was a legitimate chance that could have, and maybe should have, ended up in the back of the goal.

Even on the goal he did give up, Guzan made the initial save and any semblance of awareness in the USMNT box would have seen the ball cleared away. Guzan stepped up a big way on Saturday, and the U.S. has a point because of it.

A LOOK AHEAD

If you’re near a panic button, step back. There’s no reason to be upset, at least not yet.

Panama was always going to be the biggest test. I knew it, you knew it and the USMNT knew it. A draw, while disappointing given the style of soccer on display, isn’t the worst result. It was a whatever result from a whatever performance. You move on.

Bruce Arena isn’t the type to panic over matches like this, and he isn’t the type to blow things up over one or two setbacks. No one is going to be glued to the bench and no one will be viewed as a savior. It’s business as usual for the USMNT, even if that business was a bit ugly on Saturday in Nashville.

The scenario ahead? The U.S. needs goals and lots of them. It’ll almost certainly be a race with Panama to see who can score more against minnows Nicaragua and Martinique. Barring something ridiculous, both the U.S. and Panama will be fine.

Still, there’s a difference between “fine” and “championship fine”. Going forward the U.S. will need to be better, and they probably will be, as they still have two games to fine-tune before the real matches begin.

26 comments
  • i scored three goals in a game once

    I know its only one game but lets just be glad that maybe only a few of these players are really probably going to get significant mins . Acosta had a bad game and looked soft but still young and should recover, Villafana’s honeymoon stage is over now people are in my eyes correctly questioning his status as the LB going forward, and Omar is Omar you get the good with the bad I guess. Dwyer should have jumped Morris by now and grasped the fourth striker spot. The next six months should be fun to watch as the young euro players hopefully get mins and jump into the equation for call ups.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Chicago Josh

    Can we agree the Zusi at right back experiment isn’t working? He’s getting schooled by opponents who aren’t even world class.

    Like

    • whammmm

      It’s not an experiment, he’s regularly being trotted out there. This is the gold cup, he clearly isn’t the first choice RB. Him continuing to start says more about how little they think of lichaj. Zusi has had plenty serviceable performances, this game was certainly not one of them. You could say the same for pretty much every player on the field.

      Like

    • Twomilerule

      You can say the experiment of Zusi playing RB and right midfield should be over. He offers little at either spot. With the ball he has one speed and his ball retention is null.

      Like

      • whammmm

        It’s not an experiment, a few times is an experiment. he’s as good as we have under the current circumstances. When qualifiers roll around we better not be relying on Zusi. If that’s the case we are in trouble. For the time being everyone should relax.

        Like

  • Lost in Space

    I needed to re-watch the game before I tried to breakdown the PROs from the CONs.
    Winners:
    1) Dwyer…Against the 2 most challenging opponents we’re likely to face this summer, outside of Mexico & Costa Rica; Dom has shown that he can find chances and execute. Dom has overtaken Morris for the 4th striker spot when the full “A” Team is available.
    2) Guzan…Again has shown that he is likely to the 1-B option at Keeper. He may still be a step behind Howard, but he’s 2-3 steps ahead of the youngsters (Horvath, Gonzalez, Steffen, etc…).
    3) Rowe. While his poor defensive decision did contribute to the goal against, overall he’s raised his stock with the team. He’s looked much better than some of the veterans of the team (Bedoya, Zusi, McCarty) and has earned a shot with the “A” Team. I see him as a long shot, but he could be this cycle’s Zusi.

    Losers:
    1) Zusi was again exposed, and showed that he isn’t able to complete at the international level as a RB. His positional awareness and understanding of when to close space is where he falls flat. If he can’t contain Panama he has no chance against top quality opposition.
    2) Villafana’s 1 Vs. 1 defending has again come into question. He has the attacking ability to compete, but has been exposed at times on the defensive side. Garza should get another shot soon…if they don’t improve, expect Fabian to shift back to LB again.
    3) Bedoya has again shown that he is slipping down the depth chart….and quickly. I fully expect him to be overtaken once the European players are back in contention…Gooch, Saief, Hyndman, Green, all have to be smelling the blood in the water.

    Held Steady:
    1) Corona, has had 1 good game, 1 bad game. We’ll see which was the blip and which was what he really is as the tournament progresses beyond the group stage.
    2) Acosta has had more good showings than bad, so hoping this was just a bad day at the office. He’s young enough that we should expect a few games like this. Hopefully will shake it off and get back to the way he played against Mex & Ghana.
    3) McCarty again has confirmed that he’s a decent MLSer….but should not be considered when forming a true 23. He lacks the physical tools & grit. Expected more from a mature player, so hoping this will be the last time we see him outside of a January Camp.
    4) Gonzalez & Besler both did OK, but also opened the door to be overtaken (Gonzalez in particular). Besler had a good game against Ghana and a Meh game against Panama; likely keeping him as the # 2 LCB. Gonzalez on the other hand only has a “Meh” game against Panama to hang his hat on. IMO Hedges is really going to push him for that # 2 RCB spot.
    5) Zardes showed that he’s still struggling to return to full fitness & form. He’s going to be under a lot of pressure once the European players are back in action (see Bedoya above).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gary Page

      Regarding Zardes, your comment is about the same as that of others. I have a hunch that it is not a question of fitness and form, however. I think it is mostly mental. For those who didn’t see his original injury, it was really bad. He had just taken a ball just inside the touch line when Kendall Waston of Vancouver came sliding in with both feet and took him out so hard that Zardes and the ball ended up 3 or 4 yards outside of touch. I have noticed that when he gets the ball now he is very tentative. Even when he gets the ball in space, he looks to pass it off quickly. He is lacking the cut and thrust that he used to have and seems reluctant to take on others. I think he is gun shy and really lacking in confidence now. It’s a shame because he is an outstanding young man per articles in the LA Times.

      Like

    • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

      Biggest loser for me was Bedoya. He was not the worst player on the field by any means, but he was given the armband showing where he stood in Bruce’s mind. He got forward well and 3-4 times in dangerous positions where he was a touch late in his decision making every single time. With the responsibility placed on him Saturday he came up short. Villafana a close second in the biggest loser category.
      If there is a winner for me it was Dwyer. He worked hard, took his one chance and was always trying to be positive with his play. Consistently tried to speed things up. This stood out on a day where everyone seemed to be stuck in 1st gear. He too had a lot to play for and stood out for not sucking on the day 9 of our 11 were bad. Guzan was obviously the best player, but the status quo as backup GK remains.

      Like

      • Dan

        Pretty sure he was given the armband as the highest capped starter. Sometimes in tournaments when the captain or vice captains of the A team are unavailable they will use caps to decide who gets the band.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dennis

        I think people are being pretty hard on Vilafanna. Without his getting forward, Rowe and Dwyer would not have the chances they did (barring the one time Dwyer unexpectedly chased down a ball headed for the goal line). It is true he can be over-powered one-v-one but his positioning was more than adequate and he did not make the rookie mistakes Zusi did by failing to keep a line with the other backs. The guy needs to eat some more protein and hit the weight room to get some more strength.

        Like

      • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

        Villafana and Bedoya are the “losers” for me because of the expectation upon them.
        Villafana is an experienced player and has been our starting left back this year. He should be putting in better performances to solidify his spot. His position is definitely up for grabs if he doesn’t step up.
        Likewise, Bedoya has a chance, especially as captain, to lead the team and mark his place in the full squad. Both players are in positions to be key players on this team, but neither stepped up when we needed a good game from our leaders. Neither were our worst player out there, but we should be expecting better from the 3-4 guys legitimately in the conversation for starting 11. Guzan is the example of a player who is in that category and he saved us from an embarrassing defeat.
        Acosta can’t escape blame here either, but is getting a bit of a pass because of his inexperience. He needs to prove this was an off day and come back with a great rest of the tournament. Anything less and he will stay stuck in the pack of contenders to partner in CM.

        Like

      • Twomilerule

        Bedoya and Zusi are very easy for opposing teams to prepare for. Rarely dangerous in the final third and not up to speed inside the 18yd box to be dangerous with the ball. Require one player to mark them.
        Villafana, was the only player I recall who took defenders on inside the 18 and beat his initial defender and made space to distribute. That is an asset and achievement over what the other 11 was laying out there. Defensively he is not that strong and not that fast but a defensive midfielder able to win the ball or at least hunt down the ball would make his job and the left CB’s jobs easier.
        The quandary is who is better? Garza or Lichaj? Garza cannot stay healthy, slower then Villafana, and even worse at marking a man. There is a reason or multiple reasons why Lichaj does not play. From the little I have seen him play he is a bulldozer.
        The US with JK and Arena know that against better teams they need to make opposing istars defend and either a LB and RB or both need to get forward and force opposing teams wings to defend

        Like

  • Scott e Dio93

    Zusi has no future with USNT.

    USNT seem lack a real destroyer for this game. Anyway, There’s time for some test-out players.

    Villafana is becoming the new “Bornstein” (great over-lapping for the attack but gets burn in defense) fast. I don’t want see Johnson wasted as LB & Villafana deserve a chance or use Lichaj.

    Like

  • Boob Bradley

    It was really hot out there and the weather seemed to play a major factor. Agudelo looked like he was going to pass out after just 5 minutes on the field.

    Like

    • Twomilerule

      Again Fox and ESPN dictate start times for matches. Trying to maximize viewership with afternoon summer start times coinciding with the hottest part of the day? The players suffer and the quality of performance for the tv audience suffers. TV revenues drives the marketplace with little regard for the actual field conditions and performance. Think about the NFL playoffs every year Fox and CBS run out 7:30 start times for games in New England or Green Bay in December.

      Like

  • Mat

    Why not hold the Gold Cup every 4 years instead? Because what we end up with with this every 2 year thing are B and C squads and pathetically bad soccer in 90% of the games. How is this our “regional” competition if teams are saying we don’t give a sh** and we’ll just send a bunch of our lesser talents to fill in. No wonder the rest of the world thinks Concacaf is a joke… and honestly, given the level of play on display, hard to disagree… can you imagine a Euro where teams send their second or third choices??? Riduculous.

    Like

    • johnnyrazor

      Its more the timing than the frequency. If you want A teams to play it needs to be held at the beginning of June when European players are available. By scheduling it in July most of the regions best players will be training with their clubs. Although playing it the same year as Confed Cup ensures the regions best team will not bring their best squad.

      Like

      • BlueBanana

        I would agree with you if MLS’s season wasn’t still ongoing. With European league American players in training during offseason, they should be able to make the CONCACAF Gold Cup like how European players are currently playing national team games with their A team.

        Like

      • Johnnyrazor

        European national teams are not playing games right now. Portugal and Germany playing in the Confed Cup the only two since they were obligated to play in the FIFA Tournament which ended July 2. Also those squads are made up almost entirely of locked in starters how many Concacaf players in Europe can you say that about.

        Like

    • Scott e Dio93

      It’s the T.V. contract. Copa America use to be two years but people lost interest & rating & crowds skrunks because B or C teams playing.

      Like

  • Dennis

    I imagine that since CONCACAF teams are mostly struggling financially that getting revenue from 2 tournaments rather than one trumps the quality of play. So think it is really unlikely the tournament will go to once every 4 years. Euro has so many teams that they spend the year before the Euro Cup playing qualifying games, something that is barely needed in CONCACAF. That said, moving to a June tournament would make more sense as you lose only the Confed team every other tournament.

    Like

  • Davis, Lennon, Observer & Associates

    I find it so funny when people say Dwyer is “just now” moving above Morris in the depth chart. If you couldn’t see that RIGHT NOW, before Dwyer played a minute for USMNT, that he is a better striker than Morris then I don’t know what to tell ya haha.

    Guess what guys, if BWP gains US citizenship he, too, will be ahead of Morris on depth chart lol…. Btw, so would Ronaldo

    Like

    • johnnyrazor

      There are some fans that like whomever runs around the most and at the fastest speed. Morris is really good at running fast, often times into spaces that people cannot possibly get the ball to. He is learning, but as teams in MLS have scouted him he has had trouble advancing his skill to the level of scouting. Probably, doesn’t hurt that he scored against Mexico in his third appearance either, but sadly he’s only scored once in fourteen caps since. Not sure why more people aren’t calling him Jordan Morehypethangoalsis.

      Like

      • I scored three goals in one game

        I think it should be noted that his goal against Mexico came against a B team and wasn’t during an international break so not many of there better players were playing. It was a nice goal though not taking that from him.

        Like

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