If anyone scoffs at the difficulty of CONCACAF qualifying, just look at friendlies like this. Often the United States slips up in games away to Central American countries, so coming away with a 1-0 victory in Panama is far more impressive than at first glance. Don't be surprised if the United States has to return to this stadium next year in the Hexagonal, because right now Panama is playing and preparing better than anyone outside of Mexico and the US. Two wins is better than anything so far under Klinsmann no matter the competition. So I'll take an ugly win, and even better an ugly win with Graham Zusi scoring the winner.
Two striker system paid off, but only once
Sure, it didn't pay off in a goal from the strikers themselves, but if you are going to play with width, you must have targets in the box. Teal Bunbury and Chris Wondolowski occupied the back four leaving Zusi wide open at the far post. While Shea looked tired at times, he did a good job of supplying Zach Loyd for overlapping runs. Wondolowski again was the victim of fabulous goalkeeping. Much like another older super-sub Hercules Gomez; he has a knack for being in the right place. Bunbury's feet often failed him and his touch was heavy.
The United States didn't pose much of a threat after Wondolowski's attempt off a rebounded Jones strike. Some of that can be laid on the midfield and being down to ten men for the last forty minutes, but the strikers never teamed up in a meaningful way. At some point, the two strikers should be able to link up together.
Backline gets tested
Panama isn't going to be a pushover anymore. Their coaching again was excellent and in this game they pressed up higher than I expected. By outnumbering the center backs, often playing a three on two, they played several through balls and Parkhurst was beaten over the top occasionally. The red on Geoff Cameron was tough, it's certainly a yellow, but again the United States was beat over the top. I don't think Cameron did anything to condemn himself, but this wasn't a great showing for any of the back four. Jeff Parke actually looked the best, and he isn't in our future plans. A.J. DeLaGarza looked out of place, shockingly because he was out of place and Panama knew that.
Nick Rimando can be our third goalkeeper forever. Like his Real Salt Lake teammate Kyle Beckerman, I have no problem with his known qualities, I just don't like him starting for our team. I didn't expect him to start, but if a game needed a known quality at keeper, it was this one. Outside a ridiculous challenge at the top of the 18 in the 32nd minute, he was solid and most of all kept a clean sheet. Johnson wasn't tested as much, but did make the saves when needed.
The United States needs a creator
Games like this is why I miss Clint Dempsey. The midfield had too many problems from the start. If Ricardo Clark and Jermaine Jones are starting, Jones needs to get forward. Clark actually had the better forward runs outside of Jones long shot in the first half. I would have preferred having Zusi in the middle and playing someone more comfortable on the wing. Benny Feilhaber probably would have enjoyed more space as the strikers pulled the defenders off of him and then we cold have created some offense. This was an awkward throwback to the Bradley era without the quality of Donovan and Dempsey coming off the wings or the combination play of Altidore and Davies up top. When you aren't controlling the game, you need to counter and the United States struggled with that as well.
I complain too much because after all this was a road win, and I should be more pleased. Let's see the full team beat Italy and I'll be ecstatic again.