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USA 2, Panama 1: A look back

BeckermanPearce (Getty Images)

Panama was always going to make it a fight, but the 2009 U.S. Gold Cup team showed on Saturday that it capable of taking a punch and still finding a way to win.

The U.S. national team went into Saturday's Gold Cup quarterfinal as the favorite, but anyone expecting the Panamanians to be a pushover doesn't know much about CONCACAF. With striker Blas Perez, defender Felipe Baloy and goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, the Central American side had the pieces to pull off the upset, and looked poised to win a game it never controlled. At least before Kyle Beckerman's blast and a steady second-half performance that eventually wore down Panama.

By the time the whistle blew on regulation, the Americans stood as a group, listening intently to head coach Bob Bradley's instructions. On the other side of the field, the Panamanians were laid out on the Lincoln Financial Field grass, worn out and looking unlikely to muster the energy for the upset. That might explain how defender Roman Torres managed to miss a clearance attempt in his own area and kick Kenny Cooper in the mid-section, setting up Cooper's game-winning penalty kick.

While the game itself wasn't beautiful, the team performance was inspiring for a young and shorthanded U.S. squad that will head into Thursday's semifinal vs. Honduras brimming with confidence.

Here are the U.S. player grades for the quarterfinal, along with some other observations:

USA Player grades vs. Panama

Troy Perkins (6.5)– Had no chance on the goal, aggressive off his line and better with his distribution.

Heath Pearce (6)– Defended well and got involved in the overlap well. A performance and tournament to build on for the one-time A-Team starter.

Chad Marshall (7)– A mountain in the middle, dominated in the air and broke up every sequence. Was involved in the Panama goal, but he did well to win the ball and send it to a teammate.

Jimmy Conrad (6)– Was having the beginnings of a great game before being forced out with a concussion on a nasty head to the skull.

Jay Heaps (5.5)– Steady, well-positioned and miles better than the Haiti match. 

Robbie Rogers (5)– Defensively, Rogers tracked back well and allowed Pearce to get forward. Offensively, he failed repeatedly to beat his man, committing countless turnovers. His cross on the Beckerman goal boosts his grade.

Kyle Beckerman (7.5)– His best performance in an already impressive tournament. After a steady first half, Beckerman stepped it up in the second half with a stellar goal and dominant effort covering ground and maintaining possession for the Americans.

Logan Pause (5.5)– Struggled in the first half but eventually settled in and provide good support in front of the defense, allowing Beckerman to get more involved in the attack.

Stuart Holden (7)– All over the field most of the match, Holden showed a world-class work rate and while he could have done better on the Panama goal (as well as on a great chance created by Davy Arnaud), he did help set up the play that drew the game-winning penalty.

Brian Ching (6.5)– Solid effort as a target forward. Drew countless fouls and earned a bunch of good free kicks. He needed to finish off that early header, but is definitely playing himself into form and is making a case for starting vs. Mexico in August.

Davy Arnaud (6.5)– Another good performance up top for the Wizards striker. His quickness is a good complement to Ching and his lay-off pass on Beckerman's goal was clutch. Had another assist-worthy pass that Holden pushed wide. Worthy of another start in the semifinal.

Clarence Goodson (6)– There was some uncertainty when Conrad left the match, but Goodson stepped right in and did an admirable job. Did lose his mark on the Panama goal, but was otherwise solid.

Kenny Cooper (6.5)– Another erratic performance, but his grade gets a boost for him stepping up and taking the game-winning penalty. Still needs to work on his team play, and he's still disappointing in the air, but the goal should boost his confidence.

Brad Evans (INC)– Didn't play enough for a grade.


Some more thoughts:

Say what you want about the Panama goal, but it was a fluky play and Blas Perez is good enough to pounce on it. Marshall did his best to get it away from the attacker and to a teammate, but Holden couldn't settle it because it came in too fast. You also had Goodson being beaten to the corner kick, which was then headed at Marshall with Perez lurking.

Beckerman is really coming into his own. Yes, he will give up the odd unforced turnover, but more often than not he'll fight to win the ball back. His passing and attacking qualities are underrated and he is still a tough tackler. The national team pool is deepest in central midfield, but Beckerman is showing that he's worthy of being in the discussion.

Kudos to Jay Heaps for rebounding from the Haiti match to put in a solid effort vs. Panama. He was up to every challenge thrown at him and kept himself in good positions throughout.

Put your money on Brian Ching starting vs. Mexico on Aug. 12 if he's healthy. His ability to hold up the ball, draw fouls, and set up other teammates with passes is invaluable, even moreso on the first team with the likes of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey playing off him. He's still shaking the rust off after several months away from the national team, but you see the tools that should make him a first-team starter again when World Cup qualifying resumes.

That isn't the only reason to expect Ching to start vs. Mexico. As impressive as Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies were in the Confederations Cup I have a feeling Bob Bradley isn't going to want to throw two young forwards out in a qualifier at Azteca.

Davy Arnaud has quietly enjoyed a good Gold Cup. Forgotten in all the pre-tournament chatter, the Wizards striker is quick and smart and understands the team game. He not only set up Beckerman's goal, but would have had a second assist if Holden could have finished a great look in the second half. It may not result in qualifying call-ups, but he deserves the credit for stepping up in the Gold Cup.


That's all for now. What did you think of the U.S. team's performance vs. Panama? Feeling good about this team and it's ability to step up to challenges? Like the U.S. team's chances vs. Honduras?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Jay Heaps really impressed me the whole game and I think he did him raw in your rankings. I was at the game, and waited for him to make a mistake and really thought he had an excellent game.

  2. …Cooper is that they are one-way players. Cooper creates chances for himself and nobody else. Adu refuses to do any defense whatsoever.




    Cooper is a pure goal scorer, which means he is inherently selfish. Freddy may be selfish but he is not a pure goal scorer. Cooper doesn’t make chances for others, he finishes off chances made by others. This is his job. Even though they may score a lot of goals, many coaches are wary of such players because, if and when they don’t score, they do not contribute much else and they tend to be invisible until they score. They are too focused on sniffing out the slightest half chance to score. Even though goals are so vital, these characteristics still drive most coaches and fans nuts.

    Goal scorers like him have to be brave, have a certain amount of quickness ( not necessarily speed, a different thing), have great balance, and be able to first time the awkward ball coming in from all angles and heights (usually from your ears down to your knees, the in-between ball). They also have to have the knack for scoring from unlikely situations (perfect example, Davies’ bank shot off of the Egyptian keeper’s face). I haven’t seen enough of Cooper yet to know whether he has these qualities. Study the career of Gerd Muller, the great German striker and the best example of a pure striker. He was about the size of a troll but he scored 68 goals in 62 international appearances, 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games and held the international record of 66 goals in 74 European Club games. He was comparatively short but very strong with a low center of gravity (see Romario) and extremely difficult to knock down(are you reading this Freddy?). Cooper’s height worries me in this regard. Of course Chinaglia, another great goalscorer who was “bad” in the air, was pretty big and tall.

    If Cooper could even begin to approach his level of consistency he would start every single US game.

  3. Playing Josy and Charlie says we are going into Azteca and take the game to Mexico.

    -andrew in tampa-

    Because that worked so well last time. *cough*Costa Rica*cough*

    The problem with Adu and Cooper is that they are one-way players. Cooper creates chances for himself and nobody else. Adu refuses to do any defense whatsoever.

    The problem I would have with an Altidore-Davies forward combination is that both tend to lose possession too easily. Altidore’s touch with his back to goal is pretty horrendous and Davies tries to take players on too often and most of the time loses the ball. When we’re in Azteca, we may not get much of the possession, but when we do, we need to hold onto it as long as possible and make something out of it. Ching is the one striker in the whole pool actually capable of doing that.

  4. This great for American soccer. Our B team is beating other A teams. Two gold cups ago it took our A team to beat Panama, now our up and commings are doing it.

  5. At this point Ching is better than Davies or Altidore; any true student of the game can see that. Neither of them have true skill, and they don’t have the head for the games that Ching has. They are both very athletic, and will create a chance or two for themselves, but Ching makes the team better more consistently throughout a game.

  6. Before this game I was singing the praises of Kenny Cooper, but after watching this game I have to admit that maybe I was too generous in rating his value to the team.

    Other than the penalty kick ( which I am truly grateful for ), he rarely showed me anything in this game. Poor traps, missed shots, terrible headers…

    Maybe the antis were right ?!?!?!

  7. Yves is beginning to worry me. After watching the Nats play for the last two months, for him to give us this ching analysis is sad. This is the same Yves who hammered EJ for not being an offensive threat. Is the forward’s job to draw fouls? If that’s all, then I say Ching needs to play. But given the evolution of this team, Ching up front is a defensive, we’re not sure what we want to do lineup. Playing Josy and Charlie says we are going into Azteca and take the game to Mexico. We can bring on Ching to draw fouls after we are up 2-0. Ching is below average as an international striker.

  8. US Leading Goal Scorers in 2010 Qualifying:

    5-Jozy Altidore

    4-Michael Bradley, Brian Ching, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan

    That says ALL you need to know.

    Ching and Altidore will start. Feilhaber will come in at 65′ for Altidore, and Dempsey will push up top.

    Davies will come on at ~70-75′ for Ching, and let a tired Mexico chase he and Landon up and down the field.

    Do you folks even watch the games, or are you too busy watching grainy youtube videos of Freddy Adu and Kenny Cooper?

  9. Pause should have stayed on the post. Yes, the ball might have taken his head with it into the goal, but that is the job. As it was, he interfered with perkins’ reaction. That is not to say that Perkins would have saved, but if you watch the replay, you can see that Perkins is affected by Pause sliding over. Let the keeper play keeper, and man the post. Basic soccer.

  10. has everyone forgotten who we played? it was panama. they are ranked 83 in the world. yet ives and a lot of people on here are ready to give average players WC roster spots because they took them into OT??!! simply amazing.

    ching is a good MLS player. why do people get amped that he can ‘hold the ball up’ and ‘draw fouls’? shouldn’t every striker have those qualities? what more does he bring to the table? and if he’s that good why aren’t euro clubs calling?

    and to say pearce had a good game is also crap. he’s just a shade above hejduk. I hate being so negative but you people give me no choice.

  11. yes fear

    a few years back… the mexican forward told donovan that he would find his mother and kill her

    this was in olympic qualifying… not even IN mexico

    playing in the azteca is a one of a kind experience, not something a young and impulsive player needs to be in

  12. Adrian–

    Fear? Seriously? Of what? Getting hurt? Are you saying they will be intimidated or scared of being overrun by a blood-thirsty crowd of Mexican fans?

    C’mon man.

  13. All i have to say is keep it up and please no start for Cooper. Chingy should be in there and Davy Arnaud was really great…..worked hard and created good opportunities.

  14. for mexico:

    ……….. Ching ….. Davies …………….
    Donovan …………………….. Dempsey


    am torn over clark v feilhaber in the starting 11

  15. Conners missed two gimmies – one header and one nice crossover in the box that he nailed 10 feet above the goal.

    …and his penalty was weak.

    He’s a striker that has trouble finishing. Super.

    I was at the game and watch the US team get pushed all over the pitch in front of an absent ref…so in that sense, I respect their effort.

    However, you have to figure out a way to generate some more opportunities considering the #’s that Mexico and Costa Rica are throwing up.

    Re Mexico:

    Are you really saying that Ching…of the Houston Dynamo…with absolutely no first touch would be better up front than Davies…who actually has some skill, now of the French league? Are you on crack?

    If Ching looks rusty now, think about how much he will be staggering around the field at elevation. You need the best out there. Ching does not make the cut.

  16. Your exactly right matt C; Holden is awesome – so composed on the ball. You see when he gets the ball, the defenders give him space – they know his first touch will be good and he will smoke them if they dive in. The US needs more of that in the midfield. He’s definitely in the 18 and I’m almost ready to say he should be a regular starter for us.

    Also, I don’t agree that Beckerman is out of the WC 2010 picture. I’ve been very impressed by Clark’s play as of late – he’s much improved with the ball. But I think Beckerman adds a more creative element, and is probably better on the ball. Of course, the level of competition has been very different, but I think Beckerman has earned a look with more serious competition.

    “Logan Pause (5.5)- Struggled in the first half but eventually settled in”. It’s always going to be that way. Pause is good at what he does, but I don’t see why we need a purely defensive midfielder in the first place. A player like him does not have the ball skills to play at this level. He’s always going to look better in the second half when players get tired and the game opens up….

  17. Ching’s got good aerial and positioning skills, he’s tough, and he’s just a good guy. But he doesn’t have particularly good ball control; no speed; no killer instinct; a weak shot; and he can’t beat people one-on-one.

    Is he terrible? No. Is he a serviceable Nats forward in most CONCACAF matches? Yes. Should he start ahead of Jozy and Davies at Azteca or in the WC 2010? Absolutely no way. Against the more skilled teams, Chinger’s just not going to get the job done, in terms of (1) scoring himself, or (2) creating chances for others. People claim he does the latter, but I haven’t seen it.

    Young, fast, skilled players can do quite well in high-pressure situations: Donovan/Beasley in 2002; Altidore/Davies in Confed Cup 2009. I’m confident in them on Aug 12.

    Holden’s got very good composure on the ball, it’s really a relief to watch him. Hadn’t seen much of Arnaud before, but I’ve liked his play as well.

    Beckerman, for me, is like Ching: a good worker against the lesser Nats sides, but a guy who will be exposed against the stronger squads.


  18. Ives–Davies and Altidore started vs. Spain and Brazil, I think they can handle Azteca. Don’t you think their experience helped prepare them for Mexico? Ching is good but I think the US was more dangerous with Davies and Altidore.

  19. I don’t think any caption could beat Beckerman’s own exclamation after the goal (which was blantantly obvious and awesome to see the raw emotion): “F*** YEAAAA!!”

  20. Not sure why you are taking a big dump on Rogers. He did what he could on a tight field and his defense was very good. He and pearce shut down that side of the field. That has to be worth a great deal than you give credit for.

  21. Silent E –

    Logan Pause was supposed to be on the post, but take a look at the goal again. If he was on the post, the shot still would have gone over is head. If he had jumped, the ball just might have taken his head off. Just one of those fluky, ball-bouncing-everywhere goals that no one was really to blame for.

  22. @dbex, I dunno. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Again, I really like Ricky Clark’s athleticism and energy but he gives the ball away more often than not. So many times during the Confederations Cup, he’d do a fantastic job winning the ball only to cough it up. Not every time, granted, but enough. Admittedly, I haven’t seen Maurice play as much over the past year (Who has?) but that’s my impression of his current game as well. Overall, again, I’m not saying that I’d definitely take Beckerman over either of those guys (and adding Jermaine Jones to the mix makes things even more complicated), but I think you can make a real case for him. He’s much better on the ball, keeping possession and getting forward. Just my two cents.

  23. ko’d

    there is a difference between pressures of the big stage… and pressures of fear

    azteca is a different kind of pressure.. it is a hostile fear inherent in the stadium… the stadium is desolate and the fans worse… nothing like the confederations cup

  24. Seriously, folks, read the post. At no point did I advocate for Davies and Altidore to start. I just said that Bradley couldn’t use the excuse that they were “young and inexperienced” as suggested by Ives. And I am not a Ching hater. I have never, never even complained about him. I am one of the Ching supporters-and always have been.

    And yes, Ives, there is a difference between playing a very tough opponent and playing a very tough opponent in a very tough stadium. But while Azteca may qualify as a “tough stadium,” Mexico is hardly the “tough opponent” that Spain and Brazil were. And with the pressure that was on those guys to perform after losses to Italy and Brazil, I think they can handle Azteca. And if you want to say that no one expected them to beat Spain because they had never beaten Spain…well, the U.S. has never beaten Mexico in Azteca. Oh and the first chances at international success in a semi-final and final at not “meaningful”? Check out the disappointment on the American’s faces after the loss to Brazil. It meant at least as much as 1 out of 10 World Cup qualifiers in a stadium that they have never won in.

    Don’t get so defensive, people, and don’t jump to conclusions that I didn’t make. I said that Bradley didn’t really have that excuse in his back pocket.

    Finally, I don’t think the players who excelled at the Confederations Cup will be awestruck at Azteca. This team is changing, and we are seeing the attitude change first-hand. As Donovan said after the Brazil loss (paraphrase): “We don’t want respect. We want to win.”

  25. Kevin

    we are playing a team of players who don’t even make the senior national team’s practice squad, while we love winning… this is about exposure and experience for young players

    this is a great way for the coaching staff, as well as the fans, to get a better look at some players.. we have clearly seen that beckerman and holden deserve to be playing for the senior team… these are chances they never would have been given otherwise


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