New England Soccer Today

Escape from Panama

Four days after putting together an impeccable performance against Venezuela, the United States had to overcome a sloppy and disheveled showing to escape Estadio Rommel Fernandez with a 1-0 win over Panama Wednesday night.

Graham Zusi’s ninth minute goal survived more than 85 minutes of mistake-filled soccer as Panama squandered countless chances to equalize against a maligned back line during the international friendly.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a handful of changes to his lineup from the one seen during last weekend’s thrilling 1-0 win. The insertion of two key subs from the Venezuela game – Ricardo Clark and Eric Loyd – was intended to carry the momentum from Saturday night into the game against Panama.

Instead, it became apparent early that the changes, along with a lackadaisical start, all but encouraged Panama to push up and test the U.S. defenders right from the gate.

The two-headed monster of Luis Renteria and Blas Perez forced the U.S. defense into a number of precarious situations.

As a result, Nick Rimando, getting the nod over Bill Hamid, was tested regularly. A classic gambling goalkeeper by trade, the Real Salt Lake shot stopper was forced to make his biggest save in the 16th when Renteria crashed through and nearly saw it go into the net before Rimando swept it away a yard away from the line.

While Panama was busy putting the U.S. on its back heel, the guests struggled to respond when they reclaimed possession. But the forward combination of Chris Wondolowski and Teal Bunbury were patently out of sync, neither knowing their responsibilities.

To his credit, Wondolowski nearly put one through in the 30th minute. Jones unloaded a bullet from distance that ricocheted hot off Mejia’s hands to Wondo, but as it has been for the bulk of his brief time with the National Team, it failed to find the back of the net when Mejia recovered to slap it off the line.

Seeing Panama overrun the left flank, Klinsmann replaced Loyd with Heath Pearce before the interval. But, it was the proverbial placement of the Band-Aid on the bullet wound.

Minutes into the second half, Perez pierced the central defending combination of Michael Parkhurst and Geoff Cameron, forcing the latter to hurry back to catch him. Once he did, Perez hit the deck hard, and the referee issued Cameron a red card in the 51st minute.

Left with ten men for remainder, the U.S. had to tighten the screws on the defense. Klinsmann removed Wondolowski, and inserted Jeff Parke to replace Cameron in the rear.

More changes came in the 67th minute when Jeff Larentowicz and Brad Evans stepped into the porous midfield. Almost immediately, the possession rate improved, but there was only so much they could with only 10 men.

Despite the changes, Panama refused to go quietly into the night. Marcos Sanchez fired a shot from 20 yards that barely cleared the bar in the 82nd minute. Minutes later, Perez nearly grabbed a poorly-played Jeff Parke header inside the box and before his shot betrayed him.

Underscoring the guests’ offensive ineptitude, the Americans earned their first corner kick of the match seconds before the final whistle in the 94th minute. Though they found a way to squeeze a win out of a wasteful Panamanian side, it was clear that Wednesday night’s match wasn’t what Klinsmann had in mind when he tinkered with his starting eleven.

There’s no question the U.S. will have be better next time out – and against a less accommodating squad, to say the least. Italy awaits the U.S. for a Feb. 29th friendly in Genoa – a match that will surely give Klinsmann’s squad one of its toughest tests yet.

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