Boy, that one was ugly. In a tight game against Panama, that meant nothing more than pride for the USA, USMNT fans are breathing a sigh of relief that it’s all over. After clinching first place in their group with the win over Haiti, the USMNT played a virtually meaningless game in front of a frantic crowd in Kansas City, hoping to take a win into the knockout round of the Gold Cup. Panama had other ideas and kept the United States on its heels for most of the contest.
1. Being a second half team is much better than being a first half team.
In the games after the World Cup, everyone thought of the USMNT as a first half team. They frequently came out firing, only to give up easy goals and look sluggish after the half time whistle. That has decidedly changed since the Mexico friendly in San Antonio on April 15. After that game, the United States began to start slowly, but solidify things in the second half, a characteristic much more conducive to winning than their previous habits. For that, I am eternally grateful.
2. Clint Dempsey is as important to this team as Michael Bradley.
While everyone in the United States soccer circle has lauded the play of Michael Bradley over the past year, and rightfully so, it’s almost as if we’ve forgotten how important Dempsey is to this team. The game against Panama proves otherwise. While I’ll be the last person to argue that anyone other than Michael Bradley is the best player in American soccer, Dempsey is the engine that propels the USMNT attack, and the ego that demands the ball, an important characteristic for a striker. With the knockout round approaching, I’d be shocked to see Deuce sit again.
3. Aron Johansson should start over Chris Wondolowski.
I’ll preface this by saying I’m an enormous Wondo fan, but it may be time for him to go. While he made a few good plays against Panama, Wondo was largely ineffective, and it may be time to give way to his successor as a poacher on the USMNT, Aron Johansson. Both Johansson and Wondo thrive in their ability to find open space and put themselves in the best possible goal scoring position, with the only real difference being their age. While there is a time for experience to overshadow youth, this certainly isn’t one.
4. The back line needs help.
Nothing made me happier today than finding out that DaMarcus Beasley would be called up for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup. The game against Panama exposed Timmy Chandler’s lack of pace and recovery speed, and demanded the lineup from the World Cup that saw Beas at left back and Fabian Johnson on the right. Additionally, swapping Alvarado for Omar Gonzalez seems prudent if John Brooks comes back from suspension, as the Panama defense made the young Club America man turn like a merry go round on numerous occasions. In the case of the defense, I am firmly in favor of bringing in more experience.
5. All hail Brad Guzan.
With Tim Howard on a national team sabbatical, many USMNT fans wondered if the national team would be able to cope without a world class goalkeeper. Lucky for the United States, we have a second one. Without some of the incredible saves Guzan has made, it seems likely that the United States would be looking at a second or third place finish in this group. He made more key saves to keep the USMNT in the game against Panama and will be a key figure in the knockout stages.