For all of Bruce Arena's claims about the importance of Wednesday's result against Panama, the main question following the United States' 2-0 win concerned which players helped themselves the most in their attempts to get a place on Arena's final roster for Germany.
The obvious candidates were goalscorers Kyle Martino and Taylor Twellman, but despite their tallies, I'm not sure either player altered their long-term chances all that much. In the case of Martino, the logjam at attacking mid, where Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan are top choices, would seem to limit the Crew midfielder's chances. This is especially true with more versatile players like Bobby Convey and Clint Dempsey still in the midfield mix. The result is that despite his well-taken goal, Martino still finds himself a long shot to make the squad.
While Twellman's relief at having finally scored his first international goal was palpable, I'd still like to see him score on a chance that didn't come with a bow attached to it. Granted, the sitter Twellman converted Wednesday -- where an error by Panamian defender Felipe Baloy gave Twellman a clear breakaway -- is the type of opportunity Donovan has been blowing with regularity in recent matches.
However, it wasn't enough to gloss over the fact that in Wednesday's first half, Twellman had a couple of good looks and came away empty-handed every time, proving again what we already know: The Revolution forward can find the space to get chances at the international level, but his ability to convert them at even a fraction of the rate he does in MLS remains hidden. That said, Twellman is still the presumptive backup to Donovan and Brian McBride, which is exactly where he was when the match started.
For my money, the guy who went the longest way toward helping himself was Santino Quaranta. The D.C. United midfielder played well on both the right and left flanks, delivering dangerous crosses that, with the help of more clinical finishing, might have garnered him a few assists.
But what might ultimately tip the scales in Quaranta's favor is his versatility. Arena has long coveted players who can play multiple positions, and Quaranta fits the bill. The former youth international has played a fair amount of forward for United this season, and with his ability to play either wing on display Wednesday night, Quaranta may yet snag a spot among the roster of 23 that heads overseas next summer.
Another player helping his cause was Quaranta's D.C. United teammate, Brian Carroll. The United midfielder didn't do anything flashy. He just did his job, breaking up attacks and playing the simple ball to the likes of Martino and Dempsey.
With the questionable long-term health of John O'Brien and Chris Armas, there may yet be a place for Carroll on the roster for next summer. The next step for him is to perform the role of midfield destroyer in a four-man arrangement, where there will be more ground to cover. But certainly on the basis of Wednesday's performance, Carroll deserves another look.
The central defensive pairing of Danny Califf and Chad Marshall also took strides toward earning a spot on the final roster. Both players were commanding in the air, and distributed the ball well out of the back. Granted, given the lack of speed in the Panama lineup, Wednesday's matchup was tailor-made for the defensive duo, and teams with more pace in their attack will provide a sterner test for both players. But with Corey Gibbs injured again, and with the recent play of Eddie Pope and Carlos Bocanegra at a low ebb, the chances of Califf and Marshall will make the roster are higher than they've been in quite a while.
Of course, given the quality of the opponent, the performances on Wednesday have to be put in their proper perspective. This wasn't Mexico or even Costa Rica. But as long as the four aforementioned players stay healthy, they will have at least helped themselves reach the next hurdle, that being an invitation to Arena's January training camp.
Tim Howard, 5 -- Showed good judgment coming off his line, although his decision to bat away rather than claim a through ball at the feet of Julio Dely Valdes showed there is still some rust to shake off. Still, the Manchester United backup made the saves that he needed to make.
Chris Albright, 5 -- Delivered a vital assist on Martino's goal, but still showed plenty of inconsistency distributing the ball out of the back. Albright also seemed a half step behind the play at times, making one think he would have been punished against a better team. He still probably helped his cause by showing he can play on the left, but Eddie Lewis' job appears very safe at this point.
Chad Marshall, 6 -- Solid performance from the Crew defender, and combined with his earlier showing in Guatemala, Marshall would seem a lock to get invited to the January camp. The Stanford product was dominant in the air, and partnered well with Califf.
Danny Califf, 6 -- Aside from one bad pass in the second half, the San Jose defender hardly put a foot wrong. Like Marshall, Califf was also commanding in the air, solid with his distribution, and will likely get invited to the January camp.
Jonathan Spector, 4 -- Suffered through a very nervous first 10 minutes, when every pass seemed to find an opponent. Got better as the game went on, but he also found himself on the wrong side of his marker during some of Panama's best chances in the second half. Whether he gets another shot is anybody's guess, but he didn't help himself with this performance.
Justin Mapp, 5 -- Showed plenty of willingness to take guys on, but the final pass was lacking from the Chicago midfielder. Mapp also got caught in possession on more than one occasion. A shaky clearance that led to one of the few Panamanian chances in the first half showed his need to apply just as much concentration to his defensive duties as he does his attacking ones.
Clint Dempsey, 5 -- Was at the heart of every significant first-half foray for the Yanks, when much of the team seemed half asleep. Still faded in and out of the match, and was let down by some subpar finishing.
Kyle Martino, 6 -- A solid performance, capped off with a nice goal, despite the poor positioning of Panama keeper Penedo. The Crew midfielder also covered plenty of ground, coming deep into his own half to retrieve the ball from defenders and also joining the attack.
Brian Carroll, 6 -- Just call him Mr. Clean, because that's what his passing was on this evening. Carroll has long been an underrated component of D.C. United's championship-winning team, but performances like this should garner him more attention.
Santino Quaranta, 6 -- Saw a lot of the ball and usually did good things with it. In particular, his deft control of Ralston's long ball and subsequent cross to Dempsey showed off his ability.
Taylor Twellman, 5 -- His first international goal came gift-wrapped, but he'll take it. Twellman is still lacking the necessary sharpness in front of the goal at the international level, however.
Steve Ralston, 4 -- Blew hot and cold. Ralston was active and involved in his brief stint. But his crossing, particularly from set pieces, left a lot to be desired, as it was too often cut out by the first defender. The Revs midfielder did have a nice cross-field ball that led to a great chance for Dempsey.
Brian Ching, 3 -- This guy couldn't catch a break, getting a penalty called on him, and just struggling to find his feet. A cap to forget for the Hawaiian.
Ricardo Clark 5 -- Showed off his pace with a nice run late in the match. Clark also added plenty of bite in midfield. It would be interesting to see what this guy could do in a full game.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org