COMMENTARY | Just like that, the United States Men's National Team are atop their World Cup Qualifying group.
US Soccer fans have every right to be flying high after the USMNT thoroughly outplayed Panama en route to coasting to a 2-0 victory on Tuesday night. The US are now two points clear of Costa Rica and Mexico, they're the only team in the group to have picked up three wins at this stage of the qualification process, and the Americans have a game in hand over El Tri. Panama may not be a superpower in world football, but wins in home World Cup Qualifiers are no gimmes.
Ask Mexico about that if you don't believe me.
United States 2-0 Panama: Team win
Everybody understandably loves a highlight reel golazo, a rocket struck from distance that smashes into the back of the net or a curler that gloriously sails out of the reach of the 'keeper before finding the top corner. It's the team goals, tallies that are accumulated due to solid runs of play, that provide examples of just how far that side's attack has come. All things considered, Team USA's two goals against Panama may be their best attacking sequences to date of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
The first began with a solid defensive stop that was followed by midfield general Michael Bradley completing a darting run from his own end of the pitch down the field. Bradley did well to wait until the last possible second to play the ball out left for Fabian Johnson. At that same moment, Jozy Altidore made his way toward the far post right as Clint Dempsey sprinted toward the center of the box. Dempsey's run got the attention of two Panama defenders, freeing up just enough space for Altidore to tap in Johnson's perfectly placed first-touch cross. You don't draw up these types of plays any better.
Geoff Cameron, my star of the night (more on Cameron later), was the architect of the USMNT's second goal. Cameron received a pass right at the halfway line, and he took a single touch in order to immediately tee the ball up for his right foot. The Stoke City man then dropped the ball on a dime for Eddie Johnson, who expertly timed his run to remain onside and beat his marker. Johnson coolly brought the ball down with his right foot, tucked it away with his left, and the Americans were two goals clear of the enemy.
United States 2-0 Panama: New life
The previously mentioned Cameron has a new home in the US starting XI. Klinsmann utilizing the former Houston Dynamo defender as a RB or CB in emergency situations may have to happen from time to time, but Cameron proved on Tuesday evening that he is a true midfielder when on national team duty. He routinely halted Panama attacks before they could really get going, all the while looking to advance the ball down the opposite end of the pitch via counterattacks. His long ball for Johnson that resulted in the second goal of the match was pure soccer poetry, a pass that will be replayed in USMNT pre-game videos for years to come.
Altidore had a complete performance, and I'd have no problem with anybody naming him as their man of the match. I gave the nod to Cameron, who was Bradley-esque in the way he controlled things in the middle. The question will have to be asked if the United States defeat Honduras on June 18:
United States 2-0 Panama: Omar
Defender Omar Gonzalez was just two minutes away from putting a handful of regrettable errors out of memory when he was caught ball-watching as Rolando Blackburn strolled unimpeded into the box. That this miscue occurred when the game's result was essentially determined and that goalkeeper Tim Howard saved the day and preserved the clean sheet matters little. No team can have a center back who plays forwards free and clear to his 'keeper at least once per game and expect to make a deep run in a meaningful competition.
Gonzalez is unquestionably talented, and he and Matt Besler are the current and future cornerstones of the US back line. This flaw in his game is hardly anything new, and it's something that the LA Galaxy starter must work on. Simply put, Gonzalez is far too good to consistently be guilty of such mistakes.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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