Soccer writer Ives Galarcep liveblogged tonight’s match. After the match one astute commentator who called him/herself aristotle said: “I’m not sure i want to watch any more of these games. If this was soccer, I would not like it at all.” And though it pains me to admit, tonight’s game was for the most part a chore to watch. The US did not possess the ball well, did not make good decisions when it did possess and on the whole looked disjointed. Disjointed play is usually caused by players playing with unfamiliar teammates, in uncomfortable roles, or with unfamiliar tactics; tonight it was a case of all three. Even so the US was still the better team and deserved to win. With Cuba losing seven asylum-seeking players, a spot in the semifinals looks all but assured.
US coach Piotr Nowak must’ve seen most of the same things I saw Tuesday because the changes he made were in line with what I was thinking. He still put Jozy Altidore on an island but tonight gave him more support, deploying more advanced players in a Christmas tree formation 4-3-2-1. In his blog, Altidore admitted he was feeling sick Tuesday and asked to be removed at the half. Altidore still lacked some energy tonight, but playing at 75% was dangerous. He created the goal with an enterprising, penalty-drawing run through the Panamanian defense.
Freddy Adu was not nearly as influential tonight, but he did all that was required for the win. Adu expertly took the penalty, slamming it into the side-netting. Having a player with the confidence and steadiness that penalties require is a great asset; there was never a doubt in my mind that the US would be up a goal after the referee pointed to the spot. Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan were also less effective than they were Tuesday. McCarty’s work rate was there, but passing was off in terms of his decisions and execution. Kljestan’s play lacked conviction; he was content to pull out of tackles and failed to commit when the moment called for it. Edu dropped into the center of defense and performed capably. Rarely was he tested.
New starters Michael Orozco and Stuart Holden were standouts, Orozco in the middle of defense and Holden in wide spots of the midfield. Orozco’s tackling was sure and he displayed some of the bite that is required in these rivalry battles. Holden served dangerous balls from set pieces and constantly harangued the Panamanian defense with clever runs and passes, quick play and a never say die determinedness. Marvelle Wynne replaced Kamani Hill on the right side of defense. He had an uneven match, looking dangerous charging up the right side but often misfiring on the final pass. Sal Zizzo saw his first time in the second half and showed flashes of pace and creativity though no chances were created from his play.Nathan Sturgis slid from the center of defense to wide left. He was an improvement over Hunter Freeman for sure, but nothing special. In front of him was Eddie Gaven, who didn’t have much time on the ball but did good thing with it when presented with the opportunity.
Gaven’s impact as well as Adu’s was adversely affected by the direct approach of the US backline. The direct play was terrible to watch; it was like watching a bad second division English team. Time after time the defenders opted to slam the ball upfield and force Altidore to chase.
With the first two matches in the books all players on the roster except backup goalkepper Dominic Cervi and yet-to-arrive Jonathan Spector have seen time. It puts the US management in a good position to pick healthy players who are in form for the important final group match. Saturday’s opponent, Honduras, have clinched a spot in the semifinals with wins in its first two matches. With a win or tie, the US will advance.