I'm going to change up this review from what Ryan Gates usually provides after each Timbers game. Honestly, it just doesn't fit my style to write like that. Instead, I'll be providing more broad based discussion on the game, how the team played, and how I feel that will translate into the Gold Cup Final on Saturday.
Yesterday the USMNT pulled off an impressive performance and victory against a decent Panamanian side, a side that had beat the USA only a week or so prior, 2 - 1. Yesterday's game was not only important for getting to the Gold Cup Final, but also to show the world and region that the US is still able to play consistently and win in a "do or die" type situation. As we all know the US is a team that thrives on being the underdog so anytime they're considered the better team they tend to struggle a bit.
Floppy but Physical
Yesterday's game was physical. It wouldn't be entirely incorrect to say that it was so physical that I'm surprised there wasn't more tension out on the field. The Panamanian side, who was largely playing a more defensive game, was more often than not the aggressor in these situations. As such it lead to quite a few free kicks and fouls being taken by the Americans which lead to the Panamanian defense opening up a little bit.
That said, despite their defensive physicality, I noticed that the Panamanians went down at the drop of a bucket. I'm not really sure what's considered to be good soccer down in Central America, but if it's anything like the way the Panamanians play I certainly want nothing to do with it. Worse yet, whenever a Panamanian didn't get a call to go their way they huffed and puffed for a bit getting in the faces of Americans and the referee until they finally realized they needed to actually play the game again.
That's not to say the Americans didn't flop a bit either, but it was a pretty glaring point that stood out to me when watching the Panamanian's play.
First Half Woes
The first half of the game was actually fairly timid. It was obvious from the beginning that Panama had placed a stronger emphasis on defending rather than looking for the goal. I suspect this had to do with playing 120 minutes against El Salvador the weekend prior. As such for the first half of the game, the US struggled to break down and get some meaningful strikes on goal.
That said, Juan Agudelo did gets an impressive 'almost' goal from a cross. Unfortunately it took an odd bounce about 4 yards away from the net and hit the goal post instead.
The first half would end in a 0-0 manner with the Americans looking more aggressive and impressive, but at that point it could still have been either team's game.
Much Adu About Something
Yes, yes I'm sure you've heard that one before.
The second half started much in the same way as the first half. The US was aggressive, coordinated and desperately seeking that first goal before the 90 minutes were up. It was at this stage that I first thought that Panama might actually want the game to go to PKs as they really had very little going on in the American's half of the field.
Eventually, head coach Bob Bradley made a surprising substitution by bringing Juan Agudelo off and putting Freddy Adu in, the once-heralded American prodigy who has since floundered. This combined with a Landon Donovan super substitution seemed to bring a new dynamic to the attacking power of the USA.
Then, it happened. It started from just about the half way mark of the field and only involved three of the USMNT players. Freddy Adu got the ball and within a couple seconds crossed it about 40 yards up to Landon Donovan who was streaking down the right side of the field toward the Panamanian goal. From there he took four or five steps into the box and crossed it between four Panamanian defenders and the goalkeeper to Clint Dempsey who wasted no time in notching the goal.
In all honesty, it was probably one of more impressive American goals scored in recent memory. There was no bungling, no one-man heroics, PKs, freekicks, or lucky goals. This was a coordinated attack by a much more coordinated side that lead to a legitimate goal. These are the types of goals you expect from world soccer powerhouses and it was nice to see the US pull one off.
Freddy Adu, for his part, played an impressive role in this by getting that cross in such a perfect manner at a perfect time. It was pretty damn impressive for a player many American fans had guffawed at for even being included on the Gold Cup squad.
The US team has been playing better with each game since they last met the Panama side. Still, I'm not confident they will be able to pull off such maneuvers against a much stronger and more coordinated Mexico side, especially when playing against an overtly hostile crowd. If any of you guys had thought just because the USA was playing Mexico in America they would be the home team, you'd be wrong. Perhaps if this game was at
Qwest CenturyLink Field or in the NorthEast somewhere it would be different, but seeing as how they're playing in Los Angeles' back yard I would be surprised if the stadium was even 20% American fans.
The Gold Cup final will take place on Saturday at 6:00PM PT.