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The United States beat Panama 2-0 in front of more than 40,000 loud and delightful fans in Seattle. They are now top of the CONCACAF World Cup qualification table with a game in hand on Mexico. Just to be clear, they are not Spain and they have not cemented their World Cup qualification just yet. But after this latest performance, USA fans should feel something they're not very used to: pretty content with the state of the team.
Over the last two weeks, the United States have played four matches and the improvement from game to game has been both consistent and as clear as a Jermaine Jones yellow card. First, they played a friendly against Belgium and were simply outplayed by a very talented team. They lost 4-2. Four days later, they played a friendly against a second-choice Germany squad and got off to a great start before being forced to scramble to hold on for a 4-3 win due to defensive errors.
Five days after that, a World Cup qualifier at Jamaica. They again got off to a very comfortable start only to have a defensive gaffe result in a very late goal for Jamaica before defender Brad Evans took the win back for the USA with a goal in the second minute of injury time. They won 2-1, their first World Cup qualifier win in Jamaica ever.
And now four days after that, beat Panama with a clean sheet and a goal in each half to go top of the table with 10 points from five matches. The subconscious comparison to Mexico's purgatory of scoreless draws (three in three home matches and four overall) makes the USA's position look even better, but there are no comparisons necessary to decide that the United States are taking steps towards being something other than infuriating.
Against Panama, the passing was quick and accurate. The finishing was clinical and the defending included far fewer lapses and mistakes. Centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are developing better chemistry the more they play. Jozy Altidore has now scored in three straight games and is playing like the man who scored 31 goals for the Dutch Cup winners this season rather than the guy who went two years without scoring for the United States and was subbed off at halftime against Belgium two weeks ago. And in the absence of midfielder Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron stepped in to allow Michael Bradley to push forward and add to the attack. In other words, real team stuff.
Just look at these goals. First, Jozy Altidore's in the 36th minute:
And Eddie Johnson's in the 53rd minute:
See? I wasn't hallucinating. Again, they're not world beaters and they're only halfway through this final round of qualification. Perspective is still required. The "we are going to Brazil" chants were decidedly premature. But an evolution under manager Jurgen Klinsmann is starting to take shape. And this is all without Landon Donovan, who will be rejoining the squad later this summer.
Signs of progress are fun. Even if they are entirely contained within a two-week period.