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USMNT 1, Panama 1: The SBI Breakdown

Years from now, no one will be talking about Tuesday’s clash between the U.S .Men’s National Team in Panama. It was a downright ugly affair, one devoid of much really worth talking about when it comes to the action on the field.

However, years from now, it is a match that could be remembered as vital to the USMNT cause, a point earned in a time where the team really needed one.

The U.S. snagged a point on Tuesday night, and it was a good one. They battled to a 1-1 draw, earning a road draw in one of the region’s toughest environments. Would they have loved three? Sure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get to like getting one.

Tuesday’s performance was up and down, like most in CONCACAF, with several players experiencing moments of genius paired with moments of massive frustration. Regardless, it proved just enough, as the U.S. overcame a shorthanded squad, difficult conditions and a hostile road environment to seal a point.

Here’s a look at several takeaways from Tuesday’s match:


From the moment the lineup was released, the USMNT defense was revealed to be a focal point. It was a mishmash unit, one filled with players who hadn’t played with each other and, most likely, will never play with each other again.

The results, as expected, were mixed. Each player had his moments of ups and downs, some more than others, as the unit generally put forth a solid effort, all things considered.

Omar Gonzalez was likely the most solid of the bunch. Without John Brooks, Gonzalez provided a presence in the back, lurking to stop a majority of Panama’s attack. He wasn’t perfect, as he was caught upfield once in the second half, but he was generally good enough to justify more gametime as summer looms.

As for Tim Ream, not so much. His play bounced between awful and spectacular throughout the match, one filled with inconsistency. He had a tough time on Panama’s lone goal, but he also tracked back to bail out Gonzalez in the second half. Ream’s nightmares against Panama continue, and they may be a lasting one as the U.S. continues through qualifying.

As for the fullbacks, solid. Graham Zusi may have drawn the ire of some throughout the match, but he was generally okay. He was isolated for a majority of the match and made several big plays. At the end of the day, he’s likely the sixth or seventh-choice right back, so any solid performance from him should be viewed as a major positive. Jorge Villafana was also consistently good as he all but locked down the left back spot heading towards the summer.


For years, the midfield pairing of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones has been an enigma. On Tuesday, the duo once again demonstrated why.

The USMNT’s midfield unit once again failed to combine in any meaningful way in their latest of a long line of ineffective performances together. On Tuesday, their efforts allowed Panama to boss the midfield battle, keeping them on the front foot for a majority of the match.

At the end of the day, Bradley isn’t going anywhere, but Jones is a different story. In Friday’s win over Honduras, Bradley played wonderfully alongside Sebastian Lletget and Alejandro Bedoya, combining well with a technical player that can unite defense and attack. Jones isn’t that, and it showed on Tuesday.

After all of these years, it’s probably time to shelve the Bradley-Jones experiment, but that doesn’t mean the latter doesn’t have a place with this group. Every team can use an enforcer, especially late in matches, and Jones can be just that. As an impact substitute, Jones can wreak havoc, but with several younger players in the fold, he just doesn’t seem to be the USMNT’s best option at starter.

Looking ahead, that spot should go to a Kellyn Acosta or Bedoya or a healthy Lletget, giving the USMNT a more dynamic attacking look in the central midfield.


What else is there to say about Christian Pulisic?

Facing a difficult road qualifier, the 18-year-old midfielder was once again the best player on the field for the USMNT. He was confident, he was direct and he was determined as he ran through the Panama defense several times through the first half. His assist was a work of brute beauty, as he muscled through a defender twice his age to feed Dempsey for the tap-in.

However, Pulisic also got a taste of the ugly side of CONCACAF. He was hacked repeatedly, beat up throughout the first 45 minutes. He showed signs of frustration but, generally, kept his cool. It was another sign of maturity from the young midfielder, another display that he’s above everything being thrown his way at such a young age.

Pulisic is undoubtedly the USMNT’s focal point these days, the players looked at to lead the attack. At his age, it’s a position filled with pressure, but his displays over the past week have shown that he’s once again more than ready for the task. Now, he looks to continue his ascension with Borussia Dortmund as he prepares for what comes next.


Tuesday night was not a masterpiece. Far from it. However, it was enough to give the U.S. solid footing as World Cup qualifying continues.

Let’s keep it real: Tuesday was ugly. Neither team was very good on the ball, for a variety of reasons. The pitch was downright awful and the play was spotty at best. It was a true CONCACAF game, one which, of course, ended tied due to a poorly defended set piece situation.

Arena set his side up not to lose as the game wore on, and that was fine. Gaining three points was not as important as making sure the USMNT didn’t at least grab one, and Arena knew it. A four-point haul from two games is massive in this sort of competition, one that forgives pretty much anything but losing outright.

Nearly halfway through the Hex, the U.S. is in solid position. They’ve gotten two of the three toughest road matches out of the way, as well as their toughest home match. They’re in a position to succeed, and that’s all anyone could have asked for.


  1. Saying that last nights game was ugly is an understatement. CONCACAF road games are always a challenge (field conditions, weather, refs, etc…) but last night’s poor performance can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the players….

    Zusi & Ream should both be done after their performances. Neither showed anything worth justifying getting future call-ups. Both are 6th or 7th in the pecking order, and I’d rather see a young players groomed towards the future than these 2 ever again.

    Jones/Bradley pairing needs to stop. Use one or the other, but they shouldn’t be starting games together anymore in a flat 4 midfield (empty bucket). With other options available (Acosta, Lletget, Gooch, Hyndman, Feilhaber, Kljestan) there is no reason to play Bradley & Jones in an empty bucket.

    Hopefully the Gold Cup will identify the young players on the fringes of the USMNT and give Bruce confidence in their abilities. Only then will we stop seeing call-ups like Zusi, Ream, Wondo, and the other dead ends of the player pool.

    • It won’t because Bruce himself said he is interested in bringing his best lineup. We brought Bruce in to get us to the WC from a questionable to bad position after two matches. That is why he is here. He is not here to develop players or carry us into the future. He is here to play a role and move on when that role is finished. After WC 2018, barring a deep, deep run, he’s done. Don’t expect a new midfield until he is gone. Bradley is the man for the forseeable future.

      • I’m not suggesting that Bruce change the core of the team….Brooks, Cameron, Fabian, Bradley, Pulisic, Jozy, Wood, Jones, Dempsey. What I, and most everyone else want, is for the dead weight to be replaced. I can’t believe anyone would consider Wondo, Zusi, Ream, Marshall, Evans, and the like to be considered “his best lineup”.

        Bruce doesn’t need to develop players or carry us into the future, but if he wants to achieve his objective of getting the US to the WC, than he’s got to stop calling up and using players who cannot assist in reaching that goal.

        Our best 11-15 players are well known, and when available are going to be on the team. It’s players 16-23 that are in question. If a 20 year old is as good as a 34 year old….I’d always lean towards the younger player player as they’ve got more upside.

  2. For crying out loud. Can we see our Champions League Midfield of Pulisic-Jones-Kljestan-Johnson? It’s our only chance we’ve had in the history of soccer in our country to be able to do this. Oh, but I guess we have to accommodate Bradley.

  3. Its clear Jones has got to go. One of the reasons Bradley had to hold the ball too long was Jones did not free himself, did not ask for the ball . I fact, if you know any soccer, he was HIDING, never wanted the outlet pass, Did not want to advance the ball. Being a destroyer ONLY, he was rendered useless , and will be useless from here on in. He never had the skill, ever, But was at least a DeJong type assassin.Too slow and clumsy for that now. Bradley without Jones can play a holding defensive mid for about another 6 mos. or so. Then he should be replaced also. Jones NEVER dominated, he just disrupted, no vision or creativity. Please dont give him credit that is not deserved. They got rid of him in Germany for a reason.

  4. My take on the Bradley/JJ debate is that JJ has to be the one to sit. Apart from the obvious reason that Jones is 5 years older, it also makes sense tactically. Jones basically requires the whole team to be set up around him so that he can run around and do whatever he wants. The problem is that it doesn’t really seem like JJ has the legs/skills for us to center our entire game plan around him anymore.

    Now having said that Bradley was pretty poor last night too and if he continues to play like that without JJ in the line up we really need to think about giving someone like danny williams another shot.

  5. SBI giving more cover to Michael Bradley again. No he was not that great vs Honduras, probably the weakest player on the pitch. I think any of the other CM on our roster would have down better. Honduras is a really bad team.

    In this match him just losing the ball in his own half under no pressure is no one else fault but his own.

    His terrible set pieces are no one else’s fault but his own.

    The number of hospital balls putting his teammates in danger is no one else’s fault but his own.

    Grow a spine and be real journalists.

    • Thank you! I don’t get why nobody will question this guy? He was our best player for years, but it’s going on 4 years now he’s been below average. What other player gets cover for 4 YEARS!?!

      A poor midfield pairing of MB and JJ is automatically JJ’s fault, when Jones is the only one of the two that has dominated matches himself in the last 2-4 years. Not saying he needs to be on the field either (I think both need to be phased out asap), but this constant backing of Bradley just confuses me. People, including the media, ripped on Donovan for being a FARRRR better player.

      Bradley is no longer influential. At best, he’s really just neutral. At worst, like last night, he significantly hurts the team.

      • Exactly. I’m so tired of all of the excuses for Bradley’s poor play. He’s not playing his favorite position… he doesn’t like his coach… he can’t play well when Jones is on the field. Bradley needs to be held accountable for his own performance on the field, just like we do with every other player!

  6. M y main complaint was that I thought it was a mistake to put Ream at CB. He almost always plays FB for Fulham and before that at Bolton. Besler and Gonzalez got us through the last round of qualifying quite well and they have a lot of experience playing together. Arena should have paired Besler and Gonzalez again and maybe tried Ream at the RB position instead of Zusi if he was determined to play Ream.

  7. Apparently, in Central America CONCACAF makes the referees walk from the stadium back to their hotels after the games. Clearly seemed to benefit Panama last night.

    Totally good point about the ugliness of a Bradley / Jones midfield pairing. I’m over it. Too many better options than to have two CDMs on the field at once – especially two CDMs that have no symbiosis.

  8. And, the half-volley by CP should have gotten him a GOAL! Outside of that, DARLINGTON NAGBE is the next most important player in the side ~ When was the last time you saw an USA player hold the ball, turn with said ball and head downfield??

    • I agree Nagbe brings something needed to the team. I just wish he would release the ball before losing it on those long runs. Every time last night, he held on too long and lost it. Every time.

    • Nagbe had a couple solid tackles but was actually anonymous if not a ball loser last night against a tougher Panama team. If he keeps getting started it’s because what Arena really wants is solid team defense. Not because he was that great offensively last night.

    • I keep looking reasons to like Nagbe like so many people do here and fail to see them. He does one thing well. He is able to dribble the ball and keep it in tight spaces. That suited him well vs. Honduras when they tried to high press us and he was able to beat the press and move the ball down field. However, While he looks good, he rarely gets assists and almost never scores. And he doesn’t impress me with his defense. He is very one dimensional and it is a team game. Unless you are Lionel Messi, you can’t dribble your way through the opposition. Bruce Arena’s teams, whether national or club, when they play well, rely on quick passing and ball movement. That is the style I favor and Nagbe is not necessarily the player best suited for that style of play. He was subbed out of the Panama game for good reason. He was ineffective and contributed very little.

      • I think that skill you describe of Nagbe’s is rare on our team, which is one reason why he gets attention. His ability to dribble out of trouble does seem to have a practical benefit, given that we often struggle transitioning after a defensive stop. As far as quick passing and ball movement goes, I didn’t see that last night from anyone.

    • He’s really fast on the ball which I think people look at as a measure of overall skill, it looks good on tv. He certainly has missed some passing opportunities over the last two games that could have won the match last night and made Friday even worse. I would give it up to adapting to the international game, but he hasn’t put up great numbers in goals and assists in MLS most seasons either. He does get fouled a lot, but in Concacaf many of those aren’t called. He reminds me of Morris and Yedlin, people loved them before they became regulars, because they count speed and running around a lot as talent. Both of those two have worked on improving their technical ability and soccer IQ, I’m not sure Nagbe has gotten that message. A move to Europe would force him to put up or shut up so to speak as it did with Yedlin.

  9. Didn’t realize hacking down the opposing teams superstar was a CONCACAF thing.
    Thanks for the info.

    Still trying to learn the game after all these decades. Articles like these help.
    I learned teams not being good on the ball, spotty play, ugly play and being bad at defending set pieces is a CONCACAF thing too.

    Thanks again.

    • Easy response would be that Klinsmann’s teams that first pair of Hex games were as soft as I have ever seen in quali play, with the obvious results, and that this set of two games we looked prepared for rough play, dished some out, held our own, and took 4 points. You have to accept CONCACAF as reality and play to win within it. I feel like the efforts of Pulisic and Dempsey showed that we can have some technical display within an otherwise steel cage match contest. I think the people who wanted Klinsmann to elevate us through technique above the fray had encouraged the team in a drift away from reality. I also think that just because it veers towards a baseball bat fight doesn’t mean that we can’t take advantage of technique in moments.

      One edge that I felt like US teams have not used lately is size and athleticism. We are not the only team in the region that can knock a ball around, but we can be uniquely tall and fast (and skilled) depending who we pick.

      • The US team played with quite a bit of roughness in the Copa America last year. Maybe it depends on who is on the field on a particular day. Cameron and Dempsey were both unavailable in November.

  10. The Bradley / Jones nas never worked and I don’t understand why we keep on rearranging the team to accommodate these two players. Together they throws everything out of sync in the midfield. Its like Bradley EXPECTS Jones to do something and Jones EXPECTS Bradley to do the same thing….and nothing ends up getting done. How can Coaches look at statistics and not come to the conclusion that this duo doesn’t produce a dynamic offense or goals?

    Bradley / Jones midfield
    Panama 1 vs USMNT 1 – Mar 28, 2017
    Costa Rica 4 vs USMNT 0 – Nov 15, 2016
    Mexico 2 vs USMNT 1 – Nov 11, 2016
    Only Bradley On the Field!!!
    USMNT 6 vs Honduras 0 – Mar 24, 2017
    USMNT 4 vs TNT 1 – Sep 6, 2016

    How can you go from Bradley, Altidore and Dempsey playing the game of their lives, to rearranging the team and setting them up to fail, by THROWING OUR BEST PLAYER ON THE WING AND SUFFOCATING THE SERVICE UPFRONT….Just BY ADDING JONES TO THE MIDFIELD!!!! Find the better one of the two and bench the other, or we are in for a long painful ride

    • NOthing like cherry picking your results to credit Bradley. Honduras at home, vs Costa Rica on the road(where we haven’t won in 25 years). No doubt the partnership doesn’t work for offense. But last night was about not losing. With the tie, they gained on Panama, their competition for 3rd place and final auto. qualifying spot. It was Panama’s home game, and they gained nothing on us. You have to look past the obvious my friend. Jones is in his last days. But to ignore what he brings to the table only shows your bias. Bradley was far from excellent vs. a very very bad Honduras team. Bradley will probably stay because he is younger, and the press never calls him out. But Jones has been outstanding at times for the US and is still very servicable with the right partner.

      • BYRDMAN….i guess you missed the part I said: “Find the better one of the two and bench the other, or we are in for a long painful ride”…I don’t know why you saw it as a Bradley Bias or if you have something against Bradley but no I meant play one or the other, not both (and we both know Jones is a beast at DM)

    • yeah, I’m not a fan of the Bradley-Jones pairing, but you can’t just ignore other games where Jones was by far the best player, including at Copa 2016 and WC 2014. I agree that they don’t compliment each other, and that Bruce must pick one. It seems obviously MB wins that battle because he’s 5 years younger and seems to buy into the team concept a bit more than JJ (whom has given his all to the USMNT).

    • Your overall idea is on point they often aren’t great together, but you have a habit of cherry picking facts that back up your point while ignoring facts the refute your claim. Bottom line is over the last 4 or 5 years we have about the same record when they play together as separate.

      Is it time to move on from the duo, I think yes, and we do seem to finally have some options with Accosta and Hyndman that hopefully will get a chance to show this Summer in the Gold Cup. If FJ is healthy this week I don’t think we would have seen Jones anyway, although as others have pointed out Arena was always looking for the tie and Jones provided in Bruce’s mind the better option.

      Costa Rica 0-US 4 6/7/16
      Bolivia 0-US 4 5/28/16
      St.V 1-US 6 11/13/15
      Panama 0- US 2 2/8/15
      Ghana 1- US 2

      Bradley only
      Argentina 4- US 0 6/21/16
      Guatemala 2-US 0 3/25/16

      Jones only
      Mexico 0- US 2 9/10/13
      Jamaica 0-US 2 10/11/13

  11. Withaut stars usa will revenge Costa Rica,they have it mind,they will play in home,the tie whit
    Panama wash good,remember they tie and dominated México,it is not easy team Panama thanks
    good they lost to Trinidad and tobago,is still in fourt place….and looks ahed

    • Yeah, I felt like we were winning balls CM last night from team effort and not because Bradley or Jones played all that well. The team effort nature of it will fly against the more modest sides but if you double team or flow to a side on the better teams in the region they may punish you if they escape the trap.

      • That was my biggest complaint. Ok, so the game will be physical, lots of fouls, and the field conditions are not ideal. But we should be able to generate some decent changes from corner kicks and free kicks. That, to me, was Bradley’s biggest failing yesterday. Or actually Bruce’s failing for not having another player take them in the second half.

      • My two cents, Arena is being more cautious with CM than with the rest of the team eg Ream Gonzo Zusi in back (bad, cost us 2 points). He takes that risk but keeps trotting out a similar CM give or take Nagbe to what JK was running out. The lineup and kick taking are inertia: he’s nervous to try something new in a game that counts. I am more OK with patching a lineup together to get through March with 4 points than with going to the same well for all the kicks. Even if you insist on starting Bradley, there were too many kick taker types and big lunk aerial types to waste it all.

        I’ve been saying since this cycle started they needed to put Bradley and Jones and Beckerman aside and blood some new CM talent, since we have to know they’re holding the team back now and won’t be better in a year and change when Russia comes around. We’re running out of time to audition people. Gold Cup I guess. I would go completely experimental because this team needs to look at backline and CM depth.

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