SEATTLE -- Jurgen Klinsmann could have over-thought things. With two of his regular midfielders missing ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Panama, the U.S. coach could have started rearranging his lineup and his formation, could have done more than simply plug in Geoff Cameron for Jermaine Jones in the center of the field, and Eddie Johnson for Graham Zusi on the right wing.
U.S. makes easy work of Panama
Instead, Klinsmann did the bare minimum, and it turned out to be a masterstroke in the Americans' comprehensive 2-0 win.
Cameron was outstanding for the U.S. from the opening whistle. His dogged defensive play in front of the American back four frustrated the Canaleros all night, and as important, it allowed Michael Bradley to get forward more than he usually does when sharing the defensive responsibilities with the more free-roaming Jones. It was Bradley's clever through-ball to Fabian Johnson -- whom Klinsmann could have switched to the right side following an average display in Jamaica last week -- that set up Jozy Altidore's opener in the first half.
And early in the second, Cameron made his coach look smart again by playing a brilliant diagonal long ball to Johnson, who iced the game with a cool finish past Panamanian keeper Jaime Penedo.
This isn't the first time Klinsmann has been rewarded for putting his backups in a position to succeed. Besides Cameron and Johnson, also on the field for the Americans on Tuesday were Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Evans and Omar Gonzalez, none of whom were even on the roster, let alone starters, at the end of 2012.
Now, with the Yanks sitting alone atop the Hex and riding a three-game winning streak following victories over Germany (in a friendly), Jamaica and Panama, the coach has a selection headache looming not only for next week's qualifier against Honduras in Sandy, Utah, but into the final four games of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Cameron's man-of-the-match performance Tuesday surely earned him another start. The question is where? Jones has been one of the team's most consistent players this year, and he is expected to be available against the Catrachos after recovering from a concussion sustained last Friday in Kingston. Eddie Johnson's goal gave him 11 in his World Cup qualifying career, more than anyone except all-time greats Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. It was his third in limited minutes since Klinsmann recalled him in October. But that still probably won't be enough to move him past Zusi on the depth chart.
Cards and injuries always come into play, though -- Beasley picked up a late yellow in Seattle that will rule him out next week -- so there will no doubt be more opportunities for the reserves to shine. When they do, it creates more depth, as well as a high quality problem for a U.S. coach who has made all the right moves lately. Which is why, after another rousing win, it's a headache Klinsmann will gladly accept.