Something that Euro-snobs will never understand about CONCACAF soccer is just how unpredictable and crazy qualification can be. Sometimes you just shrug your shoulders, let out a deep sigh, and remember that this is the wild, wild, west. A great example of just how wild it gets, last night Panamanians pulled an all nighter to light fireworks off all around the US hotel.
That being said, there are no excuses when it comes to qualification. You have to be prepared for a myriad of things. Every match can be an unpredictable event featuring poor field conditions, sweltering heat, rabid fans, and refs who are going to do what ever the hell they want. To see the US come out of tonight with a point is a positive step forward towards qualification and something to continue to build on.
Let’s take a minute and break down the three things that stood out to us tonight as the US went down to a hot and humid Panama city, Panama and earned a hard fought draw.
Mexican ref says play on
This match featured a total of 24 fouls between the two teams with Panama committing 14 and the US 10. This isn’t to mention a fair amount of off the ball activity and went uncalled.
Poor Pulisic seemed to suffer the most as he was a constant recipient of stiff arms, hand checks, and elbows. It seemed that every time Pulisic was about to get into space and spring the attack there was a Panamanian there to hack him down. It was an exercise in patience as Pulisic could only look up at the ref and beg for relief.
Despite the 24 fouls committed, and what seemed like a game plan of persistent infringement against Pulisic, not a single card was shown to either team. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. I don’t think any of us are advocating for a ref to control the game through the use of cards, but to see a game with such a high level of physicality and no cards, you have to wonder.
Even more interesting is the fact that the entire crew tonight was a late addition. The original crew was sent home after the center ref failed his physical assessment. In a pinch, CONCACAF sent Mexican referee César Arturo Ramos Palazuelos down with a new crew to call the match.
As I mentioned previously, sometimes just getting out of there with a point is a victory in and of itself.
Jozy Altidore disappears, and so too does the offensive fireworks
After a dynamic showing by the US attack last Friday, the offense tonight was lackluster. The US was outshot by Panama 19 to 7 on the night, and 11 to 3 in the first half.
Jozy Altidore was particularly non-existent on the evening. He had a full 83 minutes to influence the game and managed to do very little with it. Altidore finished the evening with a horrendous stat line of no goals, no assists, no shots, one foul committed, one foul suffered and only 14 touches....total. If the US are to compete at the highest level they simply need more out of their starting striker. He will be very disappointed in tonight’s effort as should the fans.
Major League Soccer hurts the US national team
Let me be clear, MLS is the best thing to happen to soccer in the United States. It has improved the development of the game in our country exponentially and will continue to help us produce the next Bradley, Dempsey or Altidore for decades to come. The same can be said however for the “minnows” of CONCACAF.
Prior to MLS’s emergence, many of the players in these smaller countries would have had few options when it came to playing club soccer. Historically some of the very best would bubble up into Liga MX and even fewer would find a place in a European club. Things have changed for teams like Panama and they have MLS to thank for that. They now have a viable and vibrant league in the United States where they can hone their game week in and week out against some of the best that our country has to offer.
Six of Panama’s players are on current MLS rosters and feature regularly for their clubs. On top of that you have a handful of others who are no longer in MLS but played for the league for years. Supporters of both MLS and the US men’s team will recognize the likes of Jaime Penedo, Blaz Perez, Anibal Godoy, and Roman Torres. Many of them have even won MLS Cup.
With that level of familiarity, the smaller countries like Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago are no longer scared or mystified of the US team like they may have been in the past. This dynamic will prove to be a two edged sword as it will allow the US to develop better players, but will also increase our competition around CONCACAF.
We have to be happy coming away with 4 points over the last 5 days. The US has improved its chances of qualifying for Russia 2018 considerably as well as regained some structure and gumption under new coach Bruce Arena.
The United States sits in 4th place with 4 points and are still in the thick of qualification. They will face off June 9th against Trinidad & Tobago here in the US before heading down to Mexico only 2 days later to face off on June 11th.