An arguably disappointing performance from a weary-looking American side, nonetheless resulted in a point for the USMNT following their 1-1 result in Panama City.
The consensus: “it’ll do for now.”
There will be positives for Bruce Arena to take away from the grinding match against a rather physical Panama side, particularly Christian Pulisic’s continued evidence in his potential for stardom. Although it was Dempsey’s goal that began the scoring in the 39’, it was Pulisic’s lone determination – swiping the ball away from a Panama defender and cutting this way and that before laying off a soft pass to Dempsey – that set up the veteran striker’s goal.
It was a big moment for Dempsey, as the strike put him just two goals behind Landon Donovan as the USMNT’s all-time leading scorer.
The celebration was short-lived, however, as Panama tied the game at one goal apiece just four minutes later in the 43’. The shot was the result of a Panama long throw-in into the goal box, where the U.S. defense allowed the ball to bounce around for sometime, before being struck home by Panama midfielder Gabriel Gomez.
The U.S. has shown weakness against set pieces in its recent international play, but much more concerning was the team’s lack of midfield presence.
Back from his suspension due to yellow card accumulation, Jermaine Jones was slotted at his usual center midfield spot alongside Michael Bradley. However, unlike their Pulisic and Nagbe counterparts on the wings, the far more tenured Jones-Bradley duo nonetheless seemed to be invisible the entire night.
Indeed, the physicality of Panama seemed to significantly slow down the U.S.’s midfield play. By the end of the match, the lopsided contest in the middle of the field was reflected in the difference between the teams’ total shot numbers: the U.S. with seven, and Panama with 19.
Throughout the match, Panama’s relentless pressure prevented either Bradley or Jones from creating more than one or two opportunities for Dempsey and Altidore, who both admittedly looked a little gassed themselves. The inability for the U.S. to hang on to possession and create chances was – despite their dominance on the scoreboard on Friday – somewhat foreshadowed during the game against Honduras, when the USMNT only managed nine shots compared to Honduras’s eleven.
Going forward, Bruce Arena will be content with his squad’s one point difference from entering the qualifying half of the Hexagonal, but still must be concerned with a seemingly porous and unexciting midfield. It’s true, Bradley and Jones offer a great deal of experience and leadership to a relatively young U.S. lineup, but Arena needs to decide if this fact outweighs the potential for a younger (and probably quicker and more physical) midfield lineup.
As it stands, the USMNT currently sit in fourth place in a Hexagonal qualifying table that consists of Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago, and of course the U.S. The team has six matches to go in this final stage of qualifying, and their next match comes on June 9, when the U.S. plays an expect-to-win game against Trinidad & Tobago.