USA 1 – Panama 2

Ghana in 2010 had more import. Brazil in 2009 was certainly more deflating. But last night’s 2-1 loss to Panama must be the USA’s most bewildering loss in recent years.

Panama’s Excellent Defensive Scheme

The two sides used relatively similar 4-4-2′s. The outside midfielders pinched-in, often creating a 4-2-2-2, while one of the central midfielders had license to attack. Where the formations differed was in their defensive positioning.

The defensive positioning of Panama's forwards made finding clean passing lines a difficult task for Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley.

While the United States didn’t exactly employ Barcelona-style pressing, they did press in Panama’s half, particularly forwards Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo. Panama, in contrast, waited until the United States advanced into their half before attempting to win back the ball. Though manager Julio Dely Valdes’ smartest move was positioning his two forwards in front of USA’s pair of central midfielders. This created a 10 vs 8 advantage for Panama when they didn’t have possession.

Panama may have waited to press until the United States moved up the pitch, but that’s not to say their pressing wasn’t intense. Once the ball was past the center circle, they hounded whomever had possession. The United States was forced to attempt a series of long shots, as they were unable to find time to pick out teammates in the box.

Substitutes Make an Impact, But Poor Finishing Seals the Loss

The match continued in this manner until the 78th minute when Bob Bradley brought on Chris Wondolowski for Clarence Goodson and the US shape changed to a 3-4-3. Dely Valdes quickly responded, reshuffling his charges into a defensive 4-5-1

But all three goals were scored before Bradley or Dely Valdes made their big changes. And all three were the result of simple defensive miscues. Jozy Altidore mystifyingly tried to play an offside trap on Panama’s first goal. Tim Ream attempted an unnecessarily heavy clearance before conceding the penalty that led to the second. And Panama’s defenders left Goodson unmarked on a Donovan set piece.

Those awkward errors aside, there was some brief, but beautiful, bursts of play throughout the match. Panama’s forwards flummoxed Goodson and Ream with great off-the-ball runs and intelligent interplay. Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore combined to earn Chris Wondolowski a shot from the 6-yard box. In the game’s most breathtaking display, Sacha Kljestan, Alejandro Bedoya, and Wondolowski pinged 3 consecutive one-touch passes before Michael Bradley placed his 91st minute shot wide.

But beautiful soccer doesn’t put the ball in the net. Beautifully clinical soccer does. And the Americans were anything but clinical. Both Wondolowski and Bradley should have put their shots on target, though Wondolowski’s miss was the more egregious of the two.

Despite their poor shooting form, and the earlier defensive miscues, the United States can still advance to the next round with a win Tuesday against Guadeloupe.

Gringos, what did you think about this terribly disappointing result? Was the fine play towards the end of the game enough to leave you feeling optimistic about the American’s next match?

3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bensten says:

    It feels like the old curse of conceding early hasn’t been broken after all. As far as I’m concerned, that burst of fine play fueled by Kljestan and Bedoya is enough to convince me to give them the start Tuesday night. Jones and Agudelo can sit and Dempsey can start as a withdrawn forward. And if little Bradley and Donovan don’t get into the game let’s yank them too (no pun intended, really).

  2. robinoz0 says:

    darn, i was really hoping for a USA win. do they have a good chance against Guadeloupe?

  3. AdamFromMich says:

    I have a few observations from watching the Panama vs. Guadeloupe game in Detroit. The Guadeloupe players were technically good, better than the Panamanians in many cases, but Panama ran over them. Man for man, Panama was faster and more physical. When the Guadeloupe players tried to get more physical they ended up getting yellow cards and then going down a man. Guadeloupe does have a couple of creative midfielders and forwards, but they don’t have a team full of dangerous players. So I think we’ll (the US) try to out-muscle Guadeloupe and take advantage of mismatches when we’re on offense.

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