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Arena pleased with progress following ‘rough’ clash with Panama

Bruce Arena had seen CONCACAF’s version of World Cup qualifying before. It’s far from the beautiful game, nowhere near easy on the eye. It’s a streetfight between white lines with a soccer ball somewhere in between.

On Tuesday, Arena and the U.S. Men’s National Team was involved in one of those streetfights, and they emerged with a point to show for all of the bruises earned.

Tuesday’s clash was exactly what Arena expected: ugly, physical and, most importantly, challenging. A visit to Panama was never going to look like the 6-0 defeat over Honduras that preceded it. With that in mind, Arena and the USMNT departed Panama with their heads held high and a valuable point to add to their growing tally.

“Every game is a different game,” Arena said following Tuesday’s 1-1 draw. “Today, the environmental conditions, field, officiating, opponent, were all different than the last game we played. We by no means expect this game to look like the game on Friday and, in fact, we expected it to look the way it looked today.

“A very good team in Mexico came in here and didn’t score a goal and got a point. Panama has proven to be a difficult team to play at home.”

Arena says he got what he expected from Panama and wasn’t surprised by anything he saw on the field. Panama is traditionally a very aggressive team, and they were motivated by the lingering effects of last cycle’s disappointment. They came out to attack early and often, pushing the USMNT onto the backfoot throughout the match.

The U.S., meanwhile, was facing a battle of their own as Arena strung together a makeshift defensive unit of Graham Zusi, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez and Jorge Villafana. The group faced a difficult task, but did crack late in the first half to allow a goal from a throw-in.

Arena pointed to the fact that the unit had never played together before, calling them “pretty solid” aside from the sloppy goal. Generally, he was pleased, as the group held up in what was an ugly clash between CONCACAF contenders.

“It was just a rough game,” Arena said. “Panama was determined to be physical, play hard, and, to their credit, they through us off our game a little bit.”

While the goal was disappointing and they actual soccer was even more so, Arena did find positives. He was very satisfied by the play of Christian Pulisic, who set up Clint Dempsey on the game’s lone goal. His substitutes stepped in and handled business, helping kill the game late. Specifically, younger additions Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola caught his eye with their effort as the game wore down.

Still, Arena made sure to reiterate that it’s going to take time. He still hasn’t quite pieced his ideal team together thanks to the unforgiving injury bug, and he hopes to do so in the coming months. The USMNT was missing nearly a dozen players on Tuesday night, and introducing them is next on Arena’s agenda.

The next step? June qualifiers, where the USMNT hosts Trinidad & Tobago before traveling to the famed Azteca to take on Mexico. It’s another set of daunting matches but, after securing a vital four points, Arena and the U.S. feel a bit more confident with where they stand.

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games,” Arena said. “We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying, the remaining six games, are going to be critical for every team. Every team is in there. Mexico is on top, so they have the jump on everyone.

“It’s going to be a battle for the second, third and fourth spots. We made a lot of progress and somehow managed to get through an unusual amount of injuries, so I give our players a lot of credit.”


  1. Pretty much on target. Also, why not have Pulisic take all dead balls from now on? His precision passing so far has looked good. Also, he won’t have to knock heads in the box.

  2. on the road in CONCACAF the US has to play different tactics than the tactics Klinsman would want to try in these road games; if you play the Klinsman way and get fouled in the back without a whistle, which happens all the time in these games good grief as the refs do not protect our players, then you leak goals.
    Any of you actually judging this game aesthetically absolutely do not get it.
    Also, if you don’t want to see kick ball then we need midfielders who show for the ball with courage the entire game (like Lletget). in this game, JJ was the advanced midfielder center pitch, MB dropped back between the CBs as the main distruibutor out of the back. JJ was basically invisible and almost never open; rewatch the game and just watch him, a 10 year old could see, mine did when we rewatched. It’s as bad a game as I have seen him play in the uniform. On the goal, it’s the lone time he showed hard for the ball btw.
    Jozy barely moved all night, 14 touches in 75 minutes…that is terrible and absurd.
    MBs set piece service was unacceptable; that role is totally up for grabs, someone please take it!
    Make shift backline (that included Ream and Zusi last night) and getting these two results with so many key players and starters out is a good sign, I give Arena a lot of credit for it. Villafana looked good again.
    We’re lucky to have escaped with a point and I’ll take it, much better than losing 4-0

    • Ok beachbum, I’ll take the bait. I’ll give you that jones wasn’t available… but watch our CBs hold the ball. They literally would just sit around waiting and waiting until they finally got closed down and then they had to hoof it up-field. 1 touch, 2 touch, move the bloody ball. On many of those occassions they could have just kept moving the ball around the back…

      Let’s not blame Jozy because our CB’s played kickball… look at Dempsey by the end he is back in MF to try and help out… That is an indictment of the defenders and MF.

  3. After watching some of the match, I’m not seeing “progress”. In fact, I saw regression. Injuries happen to all teams, squads and managers selections. As Turk above alluded, I’m really hoping the first match wasn’t just the usual “inspirational” match all players get a bump from when a new manager is in place for the first real match.

    Jury is still out. The Panama match left a lot to be desired. Injuries are not an excuse.

    • I wouldn’t take anything from the first match. USA is not 6 goals better then Honduras. It was just our night. The Panama game is pretty much what USA been for awhile.

    • If nothing else, watching the Panama game should put to rest the theory that Arena’s sides will be inherently better organized because he has some kind of special gift for telling players what their roles are.

    • 4 points from 2 games instead of zero. the Panama match was on the road with a make shift back four that had not played together. the US gave up one goal in 2 games, that alone is a huge improvement, with the injuries not needed for excuse

      • Absolutely correct on the results, but that was two entirely different teams. That’s somewhat of a red flag going forward, and yes, injuries are not an excuse because they’ll happen again going forward and should we make the World Cup, they’ll happen thre too.

        Was Honduras a lightning in a bottle fluke? Remains to be seen. I’ll definitely take the 4 points, though.

    • the “progress” arena was referring to is us moving up the table from last place to 4th place—from a non-qualifying spot to a likely-qualifying spot.

      i don’t disagree with you about the results: i think we probably would’ve gotten 4 points from these games anyway, but the ussf thought klinsmann wasn’t making a positive impact, and decided to cut bait, figuring that even a re-tread like arena can get us to the world cup. the big-picture “progress” that you’re probably referring to needs to come after russia, when they appoint a new long-term manager.

      and i disagree a little about injuries not being an excuse: when it comes to results, and getting us to the world cup, you’re right—there’s absolutely no excuse, we should be there.

      but if you’re talking about the level of play in each match? of course injuries will make a difference, all depending on who—and how many—we’re missing. when we have to replace a whole backline, i expect to see a lower level of play than usual, because our backups are not nearly as good as our starters. that’s just common sense.

  4. My view for last 2 games: 1/Nagbe, Beyoda, Tim Ream, Jones all should be replaced. Nagbe drilled too much but no vision, so often he lost the ball in MF he cannot recover and dangerous. Beyoda just keep running around, no vision as Nagbe. Tim is not up to the level of MNT. Jones obviously is Walking Yellow or Red card. 2/ Beasley, Wondo. and the same generation should stay home now, Dempsey at the time WC may need him as Super Sub

  5. I agree 100%. Having J.J. and Bradley on at the same time has always been an issue. Both are great players are defense beasts that hustle their asses off, but neither one is great under pressure or creative going forward. We need ONE defense minded mid at a time.

    • Here the thing about that. Weren’t they good enough during Copa America? Jones was. I’m not disagreeing with you just saying

  6. Nah, just think a little, please. Which game did Jones play in? your answer is right there, Stop watching the game like a fan and analyze what happened. I am sure you will figure it out, Its kind of obvious. No need for me to explain.

  7. The biggest problem with the injury bug was that it included at least six Euro based players who should have been in mid season fitness. Once again the MLS schedule hurt the US here just as the schedule hurts US teams in Champions League. Yes, about half of Panama’s starters play in MLS, but Panama had much less travel during the week. Had the US played in say Orlando on Friday they would have cut travel both to training and to Panama significantly (might have made calling in Chandler for one match more reasonable). Florida has some Hondurans in their population, but not as many as California according to the 2010 Census. Seemingly another case of the USSF putting money ahead of results, given the good crowd in the Bay Area for the Copa match this Summer.

    • That is bullshit. It’s not like Panama is filled with EU players who were in better shape. THey played with MLSers too… we played kickball all night. let’s tell it like it is. Maybe we played kickball because the field was horrific (I can see Mourinho refusing to let his players walk on that field… much less play), maybe we played kickball because Gonzo and Ream can’t pass, maybe we played kickball because we lost Cameron… or because we had Bradley AND JJ… whatever. But we were terrible because we played kickball all night, not because we were tired.

    • Also… I’m not quite ready to eat my crow on thinking Klinsmann is a good manager… I need to see something more than this type of performance. After last night Honduras seems more and more like a fluke game than some Magical Arena aura of MAGA…

      • i’d love to be pleasantly surprised, but i don’t think you’ll see some kind of huge turnaround with arena in charge—he’s quite obviously a caretaker manager, someone the ussf can reasonably trust to steady the ship between now and russia. klinsmann was fired due to a combination of (a) the abysmal display in the gold cup, (b) his bizarro lineup in the mexico qualifier, and (c) losing the locker room—not because we had some new hotshot manager waiting in the wings.

        so i don’t think honduras was a fluke game—maybe a little lopsided because of the “new manager” bump—as much as that we’re (hopefully) just back to business as usual.

  8. Hopefully the team will be healthier in the June qualifiers, but you never know after the long club seasons. Very intriguing to see what could be done with Johnson, Yedlin, Brooks, Cameron, Morris, Woods involved as well, whether starters, or subs.


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