Sunday, July 19, 2009
U.S. digs deep to overcome Panama in overtime
PHILADELPHIA -- They might have left it late for a comeback win, and the overall performance certainly wasn't pretty. But after heading into halftime down a goal, this young U.S. national team showed its growing maturity by finding a way past Panama, 2-1, to advance to the Gold Cup semifinals for the fourth consecutive tournament.
Kenny Cooper's penalty-kick tally in the 105th minute will go down as the winner. But it was Man of the Match Kyle Beckerman's bomb from the top of the box after a quick buildup that set the Yanks on the path to victory four minutes into the second half.
"It was a challenge to the team to be in that spot at halftime," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said afterward. "It felt good that the response was strong."
With the win, the two-time defending Gold Cup champs extended their home unbeaten streak against CONCACAF opponents to 57 games -- even though they had to wait a little longer than usual to get it. Said Bradley, "When we didn't finish the game in regulation, you still got a sense that the mentality was, 'We're gonna take care of this thing.'"
U.S. fans shouldn't be surprised that Panama proved a tough out. Although it has never beaten the Yanks, games between these teams in recent years almost always have been tight.
And when you consider that Panama brought its first-choice squad to the Gold Cup while Bradley's starting lineup featured eight players with fewer than 10 career caps, you have to give a good deal of credit to the Americans.
Bradley's starting 11 got even greener before the game was 45 minutes old. Captain Jimmy Conrad was forced to leave the match after sustaining a concussion just before the intermission. He was replaced by Clarence Goodson, who was immediately beaten to the header that set up Blas Perez's goal in first-half stoppage time.
In fairness, Goodson, like the rest of the patchwork U.S. back line, rarely put a foot wrong the rest of the way.
Actually, both individually and collectively, the Americans performed better than the overtime result might indicate. Still, it was far from a perfect game.
Bradley's men outshot their opponent 16 to 3, but they clearly were frustrated at times by the Panamanians' physical defending and borderline dirty play.
The U.S. players also were unable to turn a considerable advantage in possession into sustained, effective pressure in the final third. And they didn't seriously test Panama keeper Jaime Penedo often enough despite the huge advantage in shots.
The best spell for the Yanks came during the 20-minute stretch after the equalizer.
"But as the half went on, I thought we lost a little sharpness," Bradley said. "That's what we emphasized going into the overtime."
The strategy paid off, and now the Yanks are headed to Chicago to face Honduras, a team they beat 2-0 in group play, in Thursday's semifinal.
Bradley wouldn't say whether he'll call back any reinforcements for that match -- several players on the roster were released earlier in the tourney or given time off following last month's Confederations Cup -- but he confirmed that Conrad would be replaced if he is ruled out this week. For the rest of the group, it'll be a quick turnaround.
"We're going to have to recover quick," Beckerman said. "This definitely took a lot out of us. I don't think many of the guys have played an overtime match in a while."
Player ratings (scale of 1-10):GK, Troy Perkins, 5: Quiet night for the former D.C. United keeper. Had zero chance on Panama's goal at the stroke of halftime. D, Heath Pearce, 6: Nearly capped a competent performance with an overtime goal. Still has a ways to go before reclaiming first-choice status for Bradley's A-team. D, Chad Marshall, 5: Caught slightly flat-footed on Panama's goal but organized well after Conrad's early departure.D, Jimmy Conrad, 6: Was a beast during the first half; only blemish was a silly yellow 12 minutes in. Subbed out early and taken to a local hospital for evaluation after nasty collision with Perez just before halftime. D, Jay Heaps, 6: Appeared to be the weakest link before the match but more than rose to the occasion in just his second appearance for the U.S. It helped that Panama rarely attacked down his right side. M, Logan Pause, 5: Worked tirelessly, as always, and did what was asked of him: snuff out potential fires and play simply. For the most part, he accomplished both.M, Stuart Holden, 7: Was the most dangerous U.S. player from start to finish. Would have had a pretty assist in the opening minutes, but Brian Ching couldn't convert from his club teammate's cross. M, Kyle Beckerman, 8: His fine Gold Cup form continues. Great work rate, movement and on-the-ball decision-making. Made no mistake on his howitzer of a goal. Too bad he's behind a deep pool of players in the central midfield depth chart.M, Robbie Rogers, 4: Delivered the cross that led to the Americans' first goal but consistently coughed up the ball and was exposed defensively all night. F, Davy Arnaud, 5: Nice layoff on Beckerman's blast but drifted out of the game for long stretches. F, Brian Ching, 6: Typical Ching performance: He held the ball expertly, created chances, made clever decisions -- but couldn't manage to score. Shook the post with a powerful first-half header, though. Subs D, Clarence Goodson, 5: Beaten to the ball that set up Perez's strike, but rock-solid for the remaining 64 minutes after replacing the injured Conrad. F, Kenny Cooper, 6: Created the overtime penalty and showed confidence by stepping up and converting with aplomb. Did little else of note, except badly shank a free header toward the end of regular time. M, Brad Evans, N/A: With his team ahead, helped hold down the fort for the final 10 minutes.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.