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USMNT attack comes together in strong collective performance

Panama’s defense is among the best in CONCACAF. Through eight Hexagonal games, Los Canaleros had allowed just five goals. The Panama defense is physical, committed, and disciplined.

On Friday, that defense was completely worked by a U.S. Men’s National Team attack that showed a new level in collective chemistry and flow.

It was not just Christian Pulisic, although the Borussia Dortmund attacker was the unquestioned star of Friday’s match. His goal was masterful, as he took a touch past a defender and around Jaime Penedo before firing a finish that started a snowball effect. His assist on Jozy Altidore’s first goal was perfectly-placed. He was confident, direct and, most importantly, he was dominant.

But he was not the only one. Altidore thrived, putting in a performance that had to have impressed even his most staunch doubters. Bobby Wood’s work-rate was incredible, as was his turn and finish on the fourth goal. Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola pushed forward, providing valuable width and effort while swarming a Panama defense that was overmatched from the opening whistle.

“We needed a lot of movement against a physical Panama team that was going to sit in and not make it easy for us,” Pulisic said. “Our movement was good today. I was able to play off those guys, they had some great layoffs to me. I think the spacing was pretty good for most of the night — there were still some things we could do better — I think the game plan was pretty much executed.

“Those guys are great players so it’s not difficult to play with great players,” Pulisic added. “I’m happy I was able to contribute a little bit, and contribute a goal. It was a really good team performance.”

Due to Panama’s game-plan, Pulisic was almost invited to thrive. Los Canaleros generally keep a loaded midfield, stifling teams with strong defense from front to back while keeping things clogged in the final third. On Friday, they emerged in a 4-4-2, a move that Panama boss Hernán Darío Gómez admitted was likely a mistake.

Without numbers in the midfield, Panama left Pulisic in too much space, and he exploited it, repeatedly running at slower defenders Felipe Baloy and Roman Torres. It was yet another sign that Pulisic’s best position may be centrally, and another sign that Pulisic was adapting to the tactics that go on throughout CONCACAF.

“This game is an easy game when you play with good players, and he’s a quality, quality player,” Altidore said of Pulisic. “For such a young kid, he gets it. Every time I play with him you can see he keeps improving every game. The hope is for him to keep working, keep improving, and he as such a bright future ahead of him.

“With Christian playing in the hole like that he’s able to just sniff stuff out and I thought he was the difference, between him playing in the middle and on the wing. He was able to just disrupt them in so many ways and you saw the difference he can make in the middle of the park, being able to go each way, and being able to be so dynamic, so I thought that was a big plus for us.”

USMNT boss Bruce Arena, in turn, agreed with Altidore’s sentiment.

“I’ve never built a team around one player,” Arena said. “I know he’s an exceptional player and he stands out, but we don’t build a team around Christian. He’s a good player. For Christian to be more effective, he needs to have good players around him. The better collection of players around Christian, he’s going to be a better player.”

It was a far cry from the performance of a month ago. Against Costa Rica, Altidore was held generally quiet despite several chances. Pulisic was strangled out wide. Wood was relatively contained until a late goal against Honduras.

Against Panama, all three were firing, something we had yet to truly see from the trio. We’d seen strong individual performances from all three and we’d seen signature moments from all three, but Friday was probably the best collective performance from the attacking group.

“I think all of our players played well,” Arena said. “Our top three players were pretty good. Bobby Wood and Jozy were a handful for their centerbacks. Christian was as well. Some of the counter attacks were great. His first goal was a terrific finish.

“All three of those guys did well. Jozy had two goals, Bobby one and Christian one. You can’t do better than that.”


  1. Nagbe gives us one thing that we’ve been sorely lacking for years, an outside mid who can actually hold the ball and release pressure. Too many years now we couldn’t complete more than 3 passes when clearing our lines.
    Although he does hold the ball too many dribbles sometimes.
    The real question will be can he do it vs Intl level competition

  2. Interesting to see the varying views of Nagbe’s performance across the internet and on SBI. Certainly, it would seem that “low profile” is the consensus, though it’s not clear whether people see this as a good or bad thing. In my view, it seems he did a capable job with what he was asked to do. Hard to argue that he should be replaced for Tuesday… even if it’s only on an “if it ain’t broke….” basis.

    • yeah I don’t get the Nagbe hate. It seems like his job is to help maintain possession and to also help push ten ball into attacking areas. He’s never going to wow you on defense, that’s an area that can improve, but he keeps the ball circulating and is aggressive.

    • Over the Summer there was a lot of internet talk about how great Nagbe was, with some intense push back against posters criticizing his weaknesses. On domestic-based teams his technical skills stand out, but when put with the full squad alongside Pulisic and Wood, you notice his deficiencies quickly. He’s really good in the middle forty of the field he’s just ok in the final third on either end.

  3. With about 2 minutes to go in stoppage time, Costa Rica’s Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps) scored with a header to earn a draw. Both Panama and Honduras are now on 10 points and Panama plays CR at home and Honduras gets Mexico at home. Ony Panama is reachable in goal differential to the US (-2 to +5), so a US draw will almost certainly see the US through. Without the tying score ;by Waston, the US might have needed a win to go through.

  4. Finding spaces, making quick accurate passes and then making good runs off the ball are key. We didn’t do hardly any of that versus CR, and although much of that was due to CR’s defense, we could have done a lot better and gotten at least a point out of that game if we had executed better. If T&T have any sense, they will adopt the CR type of style so we will probably see a different kind of game Tuesday. If we don’t give up any stupid counter attack goals, I think we will see a 1-0 or 2-0 US win. I would feel more confident, though, if Cameron started instead of Gonzalez.

    • After re-watching, I think Nagbe was coached to cover for Bradley and esp for Villafana on that left side. He played conservatively, but he played well – started attacks and made it difficult to expose Villafana, who is not good in 1v1’s. On the other side, Arriola had Yedlin for support, and thus was able to go fwd more, because Yedlin was more dominant. Covering for our left back (usually a weak spot for us) is a legit priority, and Nagbe did it well in my view. Also, we didn’t need to open up so much, because Panama was giving Pulisic so much space, and he was gladly taking it.

      • dibo, agree your analysis on Nagbe, and defensively even if he doesn’t tackle hard or win the ball he’s pretty good at slowing the opposing counter while others recover

  5. The US played it safe if you look at the first two goals. The plan was not so much run at Panama but almost run training ground set plays. The first goal was perfectly executed with a long ball played to a glancing header off of Wood, to Altidore playing a chip to Pulisic, and CP doing the rest. The second goal came out a consistent early shape with Nagbe shading back on the left side. Anyway, Nagbe receives outlet ball in defensive third and immediately looks long on he left to find Pulisic. Pulisic pulls a Dortmund attack scenario and drives the ball at defender and gets off a great cross to Altidore who reads it perfectly for a tap in.
    It was not until around the 65 minute the US actually starts to send numbers forward including midfielders and backs. Prior both Nagbe and Arriola picked there spots to get forward and maintained shape with three to four offensive third attackers. With Arriola being more aggressive and having more freedom to get into the attack and the US constantly having numbers behind the ball. Around the 65 minutes the finally felt comfortable to get five or more on the attack.
    The possession numbers prove the US wanted to run at Panama with limited numbers and really on skilled players to beat defenders. The US was edged out in possession, passing percentage, and final third passing. I would love to see heat map of Pulisic’s and Altidore movements? Both those guys where all over the field with a high workrate and of course Wood never stops


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