KENYA BROWN - Thursday, March 30, 2017
Coming off their dominant performance against Honduras last Friday, the United States national team had to grind out a tough tie against Panama to come away with a point.
Last Friday's big win got the US back on track for qualification for the 2018 World Cup, but the question for many was how would the team respond as headed down to Panama to take on a team that is still trying to heal from their wounds from missing out on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup as they fell to the US in the final qualifying game.
US head coach Bruce Arena entered this game with more key players missing. This time around John Brooks would not be able to play as he had a sinus infection. Jordan Morris and Michael Orozsco missed out due to injuries. Sebastian Lletget, who scored the opener against Honduras, also missed the trip to Panama through injury.
This required the coach to make some adjustments to his lineup, with Christian Pulisic being moved to the right side of midfield, while Jermaine Jones returned to the starting lineup after serving a one-game suspension. He partnered with captain Michael Bradley the center of the midfield. Graham Zusi started at right back while Tim Ream partnered with Omar Gonzalez in central defense.
It would be a very physical game from the start and the US would need to work hard all night to get a result.
Clint Dempsey, again in the starting lineup, opened the scoring for the US in the 39th minute after some industrious work from Pulisic. The wunderkind put up a challenge to Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy to reclaim possession of the ball then entered the area before centering his pass to Dempsey who coolly slotted his shot past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
However, the visitor's lead was short-lived as Panama scored the equalizer in the 43rd minute. Gabriel Gomez put the ball in the back of the net after a long throw-in caused some confusion among the US defense.
Then it was all about surviving the second half as Panama pressed for the game-winner, but their efforts came up with nothing in the end.
Now with four points and sitting in fourth place in the standings, the US has put itself back in contention for an automatic qualifying place for the World Cup. They should enter their next home game against Trinidad and Tobago brimming with confidence, but then they have to make the tough trip south of the border to face Mexico.