For the first 26 minutes of the game the USMNT looked far from elite. Passes in the midfield weren’t connecting. The only distribution seemed to be the long balls being sent up by Matt Besler and Jermaine Jones to the lone striker Jozy Altidore up top. There were very few bright spots for the Americans. Then, Michael Bradley decided to show the stadium why he is one of the highest paid players in the MLS. In the 26th minute, the Toronto FC midfielder stepped up for a corner and placed in the side netting of Panama’s far post.
After that, it was all USA. It seemed as if that goal sparked the Americans to play the style that got them out of the group of death in Brazil. Bradley and Clint Dempsey began to control the tempo of the game and the young wingers of Miguel Ibarra and Gyasi Zardes started to outpace the Panama defenders and get crosses into the area for Altidore to try and latch onto. Somehow, the US managed to score just as beautiful a goal in the 37th minute as Bradley had done earlier in the match. After Panama turned it over at the half line, Zardes flashed his pace and composure and slid a through ball to an onrushing Dempsey who, without looking up, did a quick step over around a helpless Jaime Penedo in net for the side from Central America and then promptly buried the ball into an empty net. The only real chance for Panama came after a disastrous pass from Nick Rimando to Besler almost ended up with Blas Perez burying a shot in the 39th minute, only to see it end up high, wide and not too pretty.
The second half was more of the same for the Yanks. The team looked more comfortable in possession with Bradley and Mix Diskerud finally combining for passes. The former Roma man continued to pepper the opposing box with dangerous crosses from set pieces, but nothing was able to find the back of the net. The closest the US came to scoring was a muffed strike from second-half sub Chris Wondolowski. Memories of his Belgian miss came rushing back to the American faithful. Second-half goalie Sean Johnson had no saves to make as the center back pairing stifled the few Panama attacks that came their way. The final whistle blew and fans finally saw the Stars and Stripes pick up their first victory of 2015 by a score of 2-0.
The biggest focus of concern for Klinsmann has to be his wingback situation. DeAndre Yedlin and Brek Shea started at the back and it was very apparent that they were more concerned with getting up the field than getting back and defending on the other end. On several occasions, Yedlin lost track of his man, and in one instance, that led to Rimando having to prevent a point blank effort on the edge of his six-yard box. Shea is an attacking player by trade but if he hopes to be a part of Klinsmann’s system he is going to have to learn how to play defense. There was an almost lackadaisical attitude from both of these players towards their defensive duties. If the US has any hope of continuing their winning tradition in the Gold Cup, they’ll have to have defenders that can deal with the speedy players from teams like Mexico and Costa Rico. This might be an opportunity for Timothy Chandler to restate his claim as a regular first choice defender in this American squad.
In case you forgot, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are the best American players available at the moment. They seemed to be a step above the rest of the field when they would combine for attacks. It seemed as if there were always a chance of scoring whenever Bradley stepped up to a free kick or corner, and Dempsey showcased his trademark footwork whenever he had the chance. Even in a game where the Seattle Sounders man continued his usual tradition of being the most fouled player in the game, he was able to flash moments of brilliance and score a highlight reel goal for the ages. For all of those waiting for a dip in their form, you’re probably going to be waiting for a while. Dempsey and Bradley will be a tandem to be reckoned with.
Overall, this was a performance for the squad to be proud of. They dominated possession and prevented Panama from creating any real chances that didn’t come from an American slip-up. Even against subpar competition, the Yanks showed that they could dominate matches and keep a clean sheet. When they get the full array of European talent in the summer, Klinsmann will hope that their level of play will continue to elevate and that the players will be up to his fitness expectations.