ANDREW MINTZ - Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Imbalanced first and second halves resulted in a 1-1 draw for the USA against Panama in front of a raucous crowd in Kansas City, Kansas.
The Americans entered the match having already clinched first place in Group A, allowing the US some leeway in exploring a few different lineups and formations.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann started the experimenting from the get-go, starting youngster Gyasi Zardes up-top with Chris Wondolowski. Zardes, one of the few bright spots for the US through the first two sloppy matches, was seemingly rewarded by be given the chance to play as a forward rather than as a winger in the midfield.
Klinsmann also reverted back to the starting defensive line that featured in the first match against Honduras-a group many would consider the US' future defensive line.
In the midfield Alejandro Bedoya and Alfredo Morales were given their first starts in the Gold Cup, lining up on the touchlines with Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman starring in the middle.
The first half displayed much of the same the US demonstrated in its first two games, with unforced turnovers underscoring much of the first 45 minutes.
Panama thought they had the opening goal in the tenth minute, but Luis Tejada was deemed offside after heading in a free kick past Brad Guzan. The US grabbed a few chances through Alejandro Bedoya with a point blank shot in the 16th minute and then Michael Bradley tagging a long-range shot in the 18th minute, but the Yanks failed to really take hold of the match.
The Panamanians soon exploited the Americans' carelessness and got on the board first in the 35th minute. Forward Luis Tejada made his way around a helpless Ventura Alverado with ease and with John Brooks found napping, Tejada easily swung a pass to FC Dallas front-man Blas Perez who coolly slotted home past Guzan, 1-0.
Bedoya was denied another goal scoring opportunity in the 41st minute as he sprinted towards goalkeeper Jaime Peneda one-on-one, but after being clipped by a trailing Panamanian defender, no foul was called and the US crawled into halftime down 1-0.
With the Yanks looking completely out of sorts, Coach Klinsmann desperately needed to rearrange his team, bringing in Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin for Wondolowski and Morales to start the half. Despite the defense arguably being the weakest link of the first half, the moves appeared to be an attempt to inject some life into a stagnant American offense.
The halftime changes paid early dividends as the Yanks pushed their way back into the match with a 55th minute goal. After a build up through sly passing from Dempsey, Alejandro Bedoya found his way into the box and smashed a cross to Michael Bradley who hit his sliding shot past Penedo, 1-0.
Following the goal the US intermittently showed signs of dominance, but still cheap giveaways allowed Panama to maintain a footing in the match. Klinsmann entered striker Aron Johannsson to the fray in the 71st minute for Bedoya, indicating the German-born coach would pursue the full three points. With the game now wide-open, the Americans performed relatively well, but in the end were content to hold onto the 1-1 tie.
The American defense had a tumultuous first 45 minutes, but rebounded well in the second half to secure the draw. John Brooks in particular demonstrated great confidence and ability in the second half, but his first half yellow card holds him out of the US quarterfinal match.
Klinsmann long has urged his US team to play the ball from out the back, but with his young defense continuously giving the ball away, the American tactics have failed thus far through the Gold Cup. With so much inconsistency at the back, Klinsmann very well could opt to call in some veteran defenders as the knockout rounds approach.
Klinsmann and the US have five days until the quarterfinals begin, leaving ample time to refigure the roster and recoup. Panama on the other hand will await Tuesday and Wednesday's matches to determine their Gold Cup futures. The American's finished in first place of Group A with seven points, with Haiti following with four points, Panama with three, and Honduras in last place with one point.