Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fear The Butterfly

photo by tylanarocksvia PhotoRee

Raymond James Stadium / Tampa, FL /  June 11, 2011 / USA 1 – 2 Panama

Correspondent Scott checks in from the most recent USMNT game in Tampa:

As I perform a mental self-assessment in the wake of USA’s 2-1 defeat to Panama, I almost forgive my optimism prior to kickoff.  After all, we had recovered some dignity after that friendly Spanish spanking by handily beating our impossibly polite northern neighbors without much of a fuss.  Cozy again in the warm uterine waters of CONCACAF play, surely we would continue to be the awkward teenager who, while often humbled by the adults of real federations like UEFA and CONMEBOL, can always bully the smaller siblings of the house.  Alas, it seems little Tommy has been taking some karate lessons because Panama waxed us in the first half and did enough in the second to break our 26 game unbeaten streak in Gold Cup group play.

With my good friend, Jack, attending the game live, I was hoping the US would play like Brazil, but instead we made Panama look like Brazil as the first half brought back haunting memories of our 1994 World Cup team.  Sure we got a couple chances but Panama dominated possession, creativity and effort.  Just look at the majority of Steve Cherundolo’s crosses and, aside from asking yourself how they got HD back in the mid nineties, you’ll be wanting to know if he is aware you can only score from the front of the goal and not up in the stands behind.  Clint Dempsey, our only competent player in the first half, seemed to have forgotten he was playing with Cherundolo and not his Fulham teammate, Brede Hangeland, judging by his disappointment with the deliveries. 

It was as if the US team got together before the game and decided that the canal was not enough so they would spot Panama a few goals in the first half.  And, as if on cue, our inexperience at central defense, unexploited by the Canadians, allowed the first goal and gifted the second to the Panamanians. Oh, to have a pre-injury Oguchi Onyewu in there!

The second half started shaky again but then the US upped the intensity, seeming to remember that this was their little brother to the south and not some type of UEFA monster team to be feared.  Clarence Goodson’s goal was deserved (even if he was unmarked) and it appeared more might be forthcoming as the US pressed for the equalizer.  A carbon copy of the first half, now Panama had trouble even hanging on to the ball.  Dempsey and Landon Donovan were both unlucky with late efforts but it is Chris Wondolowski who is probably wondering about his future national team playing prospects.  At the tail end of the best passing display of the night, which led to a brilliant Jozy Altidore move that allowed him to gently place the ball on a platter 4 yards from goal,  Wondolowski managed a circus feat as he defied physics and skied his shot so it could join Cherundolo’s previous crosses in the stands.

Carlos Bocanegra must have sensed my frustration and thoughtfully body checked one of the Panamanians in the closing minutes.  He might have earned a yellow card but I immensely, if vicariously, enjoyed the foul.  I couldn’t even really blame the gelatinously-coiffed referee.  Despite my initial profane objections, instant replay showed that Alejandro Bedoya did go down with minimal to no contact in the penalty area and Tim Ream deserved something worse than a penalty for his clumsy attempt at a clearance.  In fact, while the referee did overlook some fouls on our players, he did the same for Panama, allowing play to go on which, given the two options, is much more preferable.

The bottom line is that it was too little too late.  If the game were 15 minutes longer, we likely would have equalized.  And if we played them five more times, we probably would win them all.  But just like Spain knows from a certain Confederations Cup semi-final game in 2009, sometimes the best team gets outplayed. 

That is not to say this game was a one-off.  No, we have serious issues to be addressed -  Central defenders, possession midfielders, creative midfielders, a real striker: pretty much everything except goalie.  Which is why I really am worried about our next opponent in this competition, even if they do come from a tiny, butterfly-shaped French archipelago.

This is farlieonfootie for June 14.


  1. You're dead on about the central defenders. I think the rest of the midfield is fine. I think striker is weak with Altidore, and we have 2 guys playing below Altidore in the hole, so to speak, with Dempsey and Agudelo, when all we need is one. Though I get the coach's strategy of putting the best guys on the field. Dempsey's illness also seems a factor as he has been largely silent. And Cherundalo also played poorly but that is an aberation for him. But with the central defenders, how are we so bad at producing these guys? And why can't they mark people? I can't blame bradley alone because he only has these guys part time outside of their club roles. But one would think a position that merely requires size, athletic ability and thuggery, and not so much footwork, would be something the USA would excel at.

  2. I meant to say Donovan's illness not Dempsey's.