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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Complete performance: USA defeats Panama in Seattle

Photo credit: Dan Levine/EPA
It's been a few years since we have seen a complete performance by the US Men's national team in an official tournament setting. There were none present in the Gold Cup 2011 and World Cup 2010 had its ups and downs, yet inspiring games. But last night Team USA delivered, as did the city of Seattle with a full stadium cheering for the Americans in unison as the team went on to win 2-0 with goals by Altidore and Eddie Johnson.

Starting from the back, although Howard did not have much to do in this match, he did provide a trademark save late in the game to keep the shutout. Brad Evans struggled at times at right back but continued to solidify his place as an option, perhaps behind Cherundolo, for the spot. He needed help from Eddie Johnson and the center back tandem but eventually settled in. Besler is certainly a fixture for the team now and in many ways better than Omar Gonzalez, who still struggled at times but remained dominant in the air. DaMarcus Beasley may not be a natural left back but he has shown he is more than capable of playing there when needed and/or remaining the starter.

The midfield was all Michael Bradley. Easily the best and most complete player in the team right now, Bradley had a 92% pass completion rate and broke up Panamanian plays and set up Altidore's goal. The Roma midfielder is arguably, as some have suggested in the media, the top box-to-box player in Concacaf. All he needed was a goal.

Johnson and Johnson, Fabian and Eddie, that is, were brilliant as wingers in this match. The first was good at defending the flank and pairing up with Beasley and also provided the assist for Altidore's score-opener. Eddie Johnson covered for the struggling Evans and timed his run beautifully for Geoff Cameron's lobbing pass to score a perfect breakaway goal in front of his home crowd. Geoff Cameron did well to cover for Jermaine Jones' absence and defended the midfield well. Although Cameron lacked the experience of the Bundesliga player, he still provided expert attacking passes such as his assist for Eddie Johnson's goal.

Up front it was all Jozy Altidore. While Clint Dempsey continued to be a distracting threat for the opposing squad, it was Jozy that delivered, once again, with a quality strike to break the deadlock. We have now seen three varieties of Altidore's goals: a volley versus Germany, a trademark header against Jamaica and a tap-in on the Panama goal. Perfect positioning, physical while holding the ball, athletic abilities mixed with deft touches. It is no surprise that he is one of the top scorers in Europe and the 31 goals he scored for AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch Eridivisie have now translated into game-winning goals for the national team.

There were two other winners in this match: Klinsmann and Seattle. While Mexico experienced its third scoreless tie at home against Costa Rica, the US hasn't lost in the Hex since the first qualifier at Honduras back in February. Three wins and one tie. In a tournament that needs usually only 16 points to qualify for the World Cup, another two wins could send team USA to Brazil, especially considering that they still have 3 more home games to go. Credit Klinsmann on this and for sticking to a lineup with alternatives due to suspension and injuries. He has a winning combination on the flanks with Fabian Johnson (left) and Zusi/E.Johnson (right) that feed the ball to Altidore where only Landon Donovan could do it before. And now Jozy scores too and all the burden doesn't fall on Dempsey.

Finally there's Seattle. Michael Bradley said so himself. This was the best USA crowd to play for. All USA chants. All red and white. The symphony of the Sounders harmonically synced with American chorus and the United States had their home turf. Better and bigger than Columbus, more American than Chicago, a home venue difficult to match. Not to mention that they have a consistently sold-out stadium club team in the Sounders with attendance matching Bundesliga games....but that is another blog post.

Player ratings:
F. Johnson.....6.5
E. Johnson.....7

Subs: Corona (N/A), Davis (N/A), Castillo (N/A)

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