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Gold Cup: What we learned as U.S. draws Panama, 1-1

The US sputters in its opening group stage game

United States v Panama: Group B - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup
The USA sputters in opening group stage game
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

One of the great things that comes along with the US’s rise as a soccer power in CONCACAF, is that we honestly believe we can win every game. One of the downsides of that same emergence is that we are even more disappointed when we don’t.

On Saturday the United States took the field at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee against their strongest opponent in Group B, Panama. Given the fact that the other two teams in our group are, well, not great (Nicaragua and Martinique) this was certainly not a must win by any stretch. But with the elevated expectations that come with playing Panama on home soil, fans will surely be disappointed with the 1-1 draw.

Despite the advantages that the US should have enjoyed playing in front of their own fans, it was Panama that really got up for this one. If not for some goal line saves and a little luck on the US’s part, Panama easily could have come away with 3 points.

Let’s recap the biggest moments from Saturday’s draw. We’ll also take a look at what to prepare for next as the US will face Group B leading Martinique on Wednesday July, 12th. A game that will be a must win if the US is to advance to the knockout rounds.

The US has to get the offense clicking:

Dom Dwyer had a great game in the US’s friendly against Ghana last week. On Saturday, he struggled to find service. By half time Dwyer had only 10 total touches, which is just bad. Fortunately, Dwyer doesn’t require a litany of touches in order to make an impact on the game. Despite a quiet first half, he was able to score his second goal in as many games on a great individual effort from Kelyn Rowe.

That being said, the US was only able to muster 4 shots on target compared to Panama’s 6. If the US is going to contend for the Gold Cup we cannot get by with so few chances on target.

Veteran experience is invaluable:

This Gold Cup has been primarily a tryout for some of the fringe players in the US pool but the players that really came up big were the two veterans, Brad Guzan and Omar Gonzalez. Only 6 minutes after the US had found the back of the net the two veterans were called upon to preserve the lead and ensured that the US earned at least the 1 point. Panama played a dangerous cross to the 6 yard box that saw Graham Zusi beaten to the ball. Guzan did well to get down quickly to deflect the resulting snap down header and Gonzalez had to clear the ball up and over his own cross bar with a forward primed to tap in the rebound. Had they not, it surely would’ve resulted in Panama’s first goal, which could’ve seen the US leave the game with no points as Panama did go on to score what would have been their second only 4 minutes later in the 60th minute.

While it has been great to see the emergence of both Kellyn Acosta and Kelyn Rowe, youth and inexperience showed throughout the game for the US and it was vital for the veterans on the team to step up big when the team needed them most.

Panama was up for this game:

The US is one of the top nations in our federation and as such, other countries need no extra motivation when playing us. Panama got up for Saturday’s game and showed a lot of fight against the US. The United States opening goal in the 50th minute seemed to give Panama new life and determination. As mentioned above, the US scored in the 50th, then Panama cranked up the pressure for the next 10 minutes as they peppered the US with shot after shot. They had the snap down header mentioned in the section above, as well as a shot just wide, both coming in the 56th minute.

Then, in the 60th they hit pay dirt when they were able to get the right touch line, and send a low cross into the box. Graham Zusi, who had a really poor showing, was beaten at the back post but Guzan came up big with an initial save. The rebound popped to the top of the box where an onrushing Miguel Camargo reacted faster than Kellyn Acosta to slot the shot to the bottom left, just outside of Brad Guzan’s reach.

The US now faces a must win:

The US will now face Martinique in their next match. Martinique did well for themselves in earning a 2-0 victory over Nicaragua and now lead Group B with 3 points and a +2 goal differential. Panama and the US have a point a piece, and Nicaragua is at the bottom of the group with zero points. You can plan on Panama beating Nicaragua which will take them to 4 points. If the US loses to Martinique then you will see Martinique sitting on 6 points, Panama sitting on 4, and the US with only 1. Which at that point would put us at the mercy of an already qualified Martinique to beat Panama with the US having to beat Nicaragua by enough goals to make up for any goal differential.

Gold Cup Group B standings

If however, the US beats Martinique, and they REALLY should, then you will see Panama and the US at the top of the group on 4 points a piece, with the US facing the weakest team in Nicaragua for their final game of the group stage.