USA 1 – Panama 0: Panama run out of steam

For most of today’s match, the absence of Panama’s star striker Blas Perez was the worst thing that could have happened to the USA. Manager Julio Dely Valdes abandoned his group stage 4-4-2 in favor a a 4-4-1-1. The change, along with high pressing from the Panamanians, helped neuter the US attack. However, the pressing eventually wore out Panama, and they were unable to stop a late US counter.

Similar formations cancel each other out

Alberto Quintero replaced Perez in the lineup but it was Nelson Barahona who proved the instrumental player. Playing just underneath forward Luis Tejada, Barahona hounded USA’s deepest midfielder, whether it was Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones.

Broadly similar formations helped negate USA's 3-man midfield, with attacking midfielder Barahona doing excellent work on the defensive end.

Even with Bob Bradley sticking to his 4-2-3-1, the United States had difficulty finding an offensive flow. Still, the USA was the better side and created the best chances in the first half. Almost all of the American threat came from the right side – through Steve Cherundolo and Alejandro Bedoya – or when the ball was crossed from right to left. One of Cherundolo’s crosses (25th) found Juan Agudelo at the near post. The Red Bulls striker headed his shot into the ground and then the woodwork. Agudelo was fortunate that Panama never made him pay for the lax finishing.

That 25th minute miss would be the USA’s best chance until Clint Dempsey buried a Landon Donovan (halftime sub for Sacha Kljestan) cross in the 76th. But at the beginning of the second half, the United States seemed on the verge of going down a goal. Poor flank defending, and a few bad giveaways in the middle of the pitch, helped a renewed Panama create a few half-chances. Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, and Tim Howard took turns snuffing out the Panama attacks.

Adu the hero?

At first glance, the match seemed to turn upon the introduction of Freddy Adu for Agudelo in the 65th (Dempsey moved up top). The US scored 11 minutes after his introduction and the former phenom made quite a few perfect passes, including the outlet pass that allowed Donovan to find Dempsey.

But the match was decided in an all-too-common way. Teams that play either a counter-attacking or pressing style always run the risk of being vulnerable to a late counter. This is one reason Barcelona rarely takes traditional corners (most of their players are also the size of Smurfs). Panama was gassed from pressing the entire match and they were unable to get back on the swift US counter.

Dely Valdes will want this one back. The switch to a 4-4-1-1 worked wonders, as did the pressing for most of the match. But not even Barca presses for the full 90. The US, particularly Adu and Donovan, deserves full accolades for taking advantage of the tired Panamanians, but had Dely Valdes dialed back the pressure for brief spurts, it might be Bradley’s tactics being challenged.

Gringos, what did you think? Were you impressed by Freddy? Was Bradley right to sit Donovan? Can Adu contribute in the final?

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Ben says:

    Was pleasantly impressed by Freddy. Aside from his beautifully weighted long ball to Donovan, he had a couple moments when he looked extremely dangerous and mercurial to Panama’s defense.

    I think Balloy for Panama might be the best centerback in the tournament. That was an excellent experience for Agudelo to get banged and knocked around a bit without getting knocked out.

    Nice point about Lichaj. Although I would argue that the solution could also be a natural left winger. At least one of the two needs to be comfortable staying along the left flank and crossing with their left foot.

  2. AG says:

    oooo, Mercurial, big word :)

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