USA-Panama Gold Cup Wrap: Michael Bradley Salvages Team USA’s Sputtering Performance
By Marcus Kwesi O'Mard
First the good news: The United States men’s national soccer team’s hopes of defending its CONCACAF Gold Cup title remain on track.
Now the bad news: Team USA’s prospects of winning the 2015 Gold Cup look increasingly bleak with each passing game.
The United States and Panama played to a 1-1 draw Monday at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. The result bolstered Team USA’s already-earned status as the top team in Group A, but its performance against a hungry Panama team raised more questions than answers.
On the one hand, Team USA is grinding out results and avoiding calamity on its Gold Cup journey. On the other hand, the United States inability to sweep aside regional foes or even perform up to expectations in the first week of the tournament makes observers wonder how quickly this team is progressing in a sport in which constant improvement is mandatory for survival.
U.S. captain Michael Bradley scored a second-half goal, which cancelled out Blas Perez’s first-half opener. Bradley’s goal sparked Team USA’s revival that only was necessary because Panama had the hosts under pressure then behind in the score-line for much of the first period.
Some attribute Panama’s spirited performance to its sense of urgency and pursuit of three points, which would guarantee its Gold Cup survival. That assertion fails to pass the test of scrutiny, as there is nothing but urgency in a three-week, six-game tournament.
Panama out-played the United States for long stretches of both halves because of greater desire and sense of pride in this particular performance. That’s worrying for the United States.
Team USA showed it could dig in and scrappily beat stronger opponents during the springtime exhibitions against European teams and Mexico, but fans expect and demand something else in the Gold Cup. They want Team USA to win and do so convincingly and with style. Three games have passed, and Team USA is climbing each hurdle by any means necessary.
Bradley, the midfield general, showed he can lead this team through peaks and valleys alike.
Here are a few other things we learned in USA-Panama:Risks apparent. Rewards to-be-determined
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann rotated his team over the course of three games in six days, but his changes failed to reveal any combinations that produce attacking fluency or defensive solidity over the course of 90 minutes.
Panama was stronger and faster out of the gate, and the United States didn’t really start playing until Klinsmann made two halftime substitutions.
Team USA hasn’t played a complete game at the Gold Cup and has yet to produce a comprehensive performance in a single half.
Clint Dempsey scored three goals in Team USA’s first two games of the tournament and made an impact in the second half of the Panama game,in which he played the last 45 minutes.
But Dempsey, 32, can’t do it alone, despite his impressive track record.
Strikers Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson aren’t firing for fitness and playing-time reasons, respectively.
Dempsey is shouldering the burden so far, but he’s essential doing two jobs from his position as a second striker. The former Team USA captain is linking up play in the midfield and finishing chances in the opponent’s penalty area. It’s heavy work-load, and his performance level easily could deteriorate if backup doesn’t arrive soon.Guzan the gift that keeps on giving
Guzan, Team USA’s No. 1, made more stunning saves — one in each half — as he has done throughout his tournament. Guzan said after USA-Haiti it’s his job to make those saves, but Team USA must eliminate those basic defensive errors that put Guzan in position to shine. After all, the sun always sets eventually.