Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America offers three points of emphasis following the USA’s 2-1 loss to Panama in the Concacaf Gold Cup Saturday night in Tampa, Fla.:
Sluggish first half is costly. Again. After scoring in the 15th minute to take a lead they held until the final whistle against Canada, the Americans said all the right things about how important a strong start would be against Panama, which lost, 2-1, in the 2007 and 2009 Gold Cup quarterfinals after playing them to a 0-0 tie in the 2005 final.
But the Panamanians outhustled and outmuscled the USA early, and scored the first goal when Eduardo Dasent nailed a header that keeper Tim Howard parried but couldn’t smother, and defender Clarence Goodson, who was grappling with Luis Tejada for the rebound, scuffed the loose ball into his own net. The play began when the USA cleared a free kick but nobody marked up on Dasent when Gabriel Gomez played the ball back into the goalmouth.
The second goal resulted from a penalty kick when Tim Ream wound up to clear a ball from his own penalty area and instead whacked Blas Perez as the Panamanian stepped between Ream and the ball. Gomez slammed the penalty into the top corner for a 2-0 halftime lead; the U.S. got one back when Clarence Goodson nodded in Michael Bradley’s header from a Landon Donovan corner kick midway through the second half.
At the World Cup last summer, in three of four games the USA fell behind and had to rally. It successfully did so against England (1-1) and Slovenia (2-2) in group play, and against Ghana in the round of 16, it rallied from 1-0 down, but conceded again early in extra time and never caught up.
Poor play under pressure. Canada conceded a lot of space in midfield and seldom put high pressure on the U.S. back line and central midfielders as they built up U.S. attacks. Panama took a different approach.
Panama pressed from the outset, and kept a tight watch on U.S. forwards Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo. Without those outlets up top, and space and time constricted in many parts of the field, the Americans struggled to keep the ball and move it forward cohesively. Not until Coach Bob Bradley used all three of his subs on attacking players – Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Wondolowski -- did the USA mount anything more than disjointed, sputtering efforts.
Its primary attacking catalysts -- Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Dempsey -- all seemed off their games, and once the Panamanians scored the first goal, their athleticism and enthusiasm -- plus a monster game by centerback and captain Felipe Baloy -- overwhelmed the USA until Bedoya and Kljestan came onto the field on the hour.
Feeble finishing. After Goodson scored, the Americans fluffed numerous opportunities to equalize. Wondolowski hit the most egregious miss, volleying over the bar from about four yards out when presented a hard, centering pass by Altidore. Michael Bradley steered a first-time shot just wide to nullify a superb sequence of one-touch combination play, and in stoppage time, after keeper Jaime Penedo turned a bouncing Altidore header over the bar, the big striker headed a shot on frame that caromed off Dempsey and fell to Donovan, who blazed his shot well off-target.