USMNT Report: Americans Play Spoiler and Savior

With little but pride on the line, the Yanks affect the World Cup destiny of its opponent and eternal rival
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, October 16, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

In less than 3 minutes, the United States Men’s National Team ruined the hopes and dreams of one nation, and uplifted and inspired another.

With a 3-2 victory last night against Panama at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Panama, the USA finished at the head of the CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup qualifying round. By winning, the Americans rob Panama of a potential World Cup berth and handed it over to their nemesis Mexico.

Now that World Cup qualifying is over, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann will have time to make his final decisions about who deserves another chance on the final road to Brazil.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: Despite the ramifications for Mexico, Klinsmann said the USA was focused solely on its own game.

“We played our game,” he said. “We came here to play simply just a game against Panama and the players went all 90-plus minutes to get a win and get 3 points. They believed in it all the way until the end. This is our job. We were focused on our job. We understand that tonight so much was at stake for both Mexico and Panama. We respect that, but we were solely focused on ourselves.”

He also he could feel the atmosphere change in the stadium after the 2 USA goals.

“Obviously, nobody expected we were going to turn things around in the last one minute, but you have to play it all the way to the end and we did that,” he said. “Our players gave everything they had, kept pushing and were rewarded. Obviously, you feel for the people, you feel for the entire country, you feel for [Panama head coach] Dely Valdez, who I admire a lot, but this is football, it’s not over until it’s over.”

MAN OF THE MATCH: Kyle Beckerman – Not too many players showed many positives in Tuesday night’s affair, but Beckerman’s shining moments were crucial for the win against Panama. His calm pace kept the USA poised when it needed to be, and his crisp passing led to the first two USA goals. In a game where he needed to impress to catch Klinsmann’s eye and book his ticket to Brazil, Beckerman seized the opportunity again.

ANALYSIS: This game was more about Panama losing than it was the United States winning.

The Americans didn’t need a win, having already clinched the top spot in the Hexagonal and a 2014 World Cup berth. A loss would have completely eliminated their top rival from going to next summer’s world competition, and would have thrown CONCACAF into disarray for the next four years.

But in the end, the USA stayed true to its winning mentality and secured 3 points to stay well ahead and clear of the teams below. In doing so, the Americans ripped out the hearts of all the Panamanians, who were so thrilled and overjoyed with the potential qualification, and handed Mexico, which has struggled immensely through qualifying, a potential World Cup berth.

Much of last night’s success has been attributed to Graham Zusi, whose header knotted the game up and halted Panama’s qualification hopes. But supporting cast members, like Beckerman and Brad Davis, deserve a hat tip, too. Davis’ brilliant cross set up Zusi’s goal and showed how the Houston Dynamo midfielder can excel at the international level in his natural left-mid position, where the US usually plays non-natural players. In the few minutes Davis played, he completely outshined Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya, who made silly passes and contributed little to the team.

Beckerman and Mix Diskerud worked well together in the midfield. Diskerud didn’t offer too many offensive chances, but he was confident on the ball and rescued the USA at points. And if it hadn’t been for some of Beckerman’s quick first touches and recovery, the Americans might have found themselves in a different position.

Jozy Altidore’s confident streak seems to have run its course, at least for now. He played very similar to how he did before this past summer when he unleashed a fury of goals. His former AZ Alkmaar teammate, Aron Johannsson, didn’t impress, either. Though he scored a pretty goal in the dying moments, there was paltry marking from the Panamanians who might have been daydreaming of Brazilian beaches a few minutes too soon.

The backline wasn’t too strong for the majority of the match. Brad Evans struggled to keep pace with the speedy Panamanians, so much so that he was subbed out and replaced by Bedoya (a natural right midfielder who had been playing on the left the entire game). Bedoya being placed in the back and Johannsson positioned deeper in the midfield were just 2 of the odd tactical changes Klinsmann brought to last night’s game. The switch from Evans to Bedoya was especially alarming for the US, as the latter kept getting beat and could not keep pace on that right side. Michael Orozco Fiscal played fine, as he notched a goal in the game, but seemed to disappear at points.

It’s hard to say the United States deserved the victory, since the majority of their success came in stoppage time when Panama already had the lead and the victory in hand. Only in those final few moments did the USA turn up the heat and take advantage of a Panama side that was stretched thin in its search for a goal.

Even though the United States was victorious, it didn’t feel like a victory, much like last Friday. This B team barely emerged from the game with a positive result, and showed just how much trouble the Americans could be in come next summer versus superior talent. If Altidore (the USA’s leading striker) and Evans (who has more or less secure the right back spot for the US) aren’t playing top level soccer and are wasting space on the field, then there’s not much hope for the team that takes the pitch in 2014.

But something positive came out of this match, at least for CONCACAF and the World Cup. Mexico has pretty much secured a spot in next summer’s tournament. New Zealand won’t pose much threat to El Tri, and will be the final hurdle in the way from Mexico reaching a tournament it should have qualified for easily.

As much fun as it would have been for Americans to see Mexico out of the tournament (La Verde would have seriously needed to rework their entire roster and strategy for the next cycle), Mexico’s near qualification keeps the region from seeming too weak and helps, in a way, legitimatize it. If Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras had all qualified ahead of Mexico, then CONCACAF’s issues would have only continued and the US’ relatively easy berth might have been called into question in international circles.

For now, balance is restored, and the Americans will likely head to Brazil with their rivals right behind them. Maybe it’s not the ideal scenario in the hearts of the fans to dominate a weakened region, but the Americans have ended World Cup qualifying on top.

And for fans, there’s nothing sweeter or more important than that.

NEXT UP: November 15 – Friendly: United States vs. Scotland, Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland. 3 p.m. EST, ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
Bayern Munich
SN managing editor, award-winning journalist and recent college grad, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's been published by the Boston Globe and has experience with film production and novel writing.
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