USMNT analysis

Post Mortem: What was learned as the USMNT bows out of the Gold Cup to Panama on penalties

ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the 2023 Gold Cup for the USMNT after the team bowed out after a shootout loss to Panama. What was learned? What's next? 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 13, 2023
8:45 AM

THE UNITED STATES bowed out of the 2023 Gold Cup following a 5-4 shootout loss to Panama after a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes. The game was even at 1-1 after the first half of injury time following a 99th minute goal from Panama’s Ivan Anderson and then a 105th minute equalizer from Jesus Ferreira. But in the end, Panama prevailed on penalties.

U.S. national team head coach B.J. Callaghan went with a very aggressive starting XI which included both Brandon Vazquez and Ferreira along with Cade Cowell on the wing. The midfield also included attack minded Gianluca Busio and Djordje Mihailovic. Then there was Bryan Reynolds and DeJuan Jones as aggressive and attack-minded fullbacks.

It was a risk by Callaghan as five of the team’s 10 field players played at least 110 minutes 72 hours. But he was also limited by Jordan Morris not being 100% and with Aidan Morris away on “personal reasons.”

But it was clear that the U.S. needed to try to put the game away early, take advantage of whatever opportunities came their way, and then shut it down on defense. Unfortunately for Callaghan and the U.S. team, that did not happen.

Panama was, not surprisingly, far fresher having an extra day rest and a much easier time in the quarterfinal in a 4-0 pounding of Qatar. The U.S., meanwhile, needed 120 stressful minutes plus penalties to get by Canada.

Still, the U.S. team had their chances. Cowell hit the post in the first minutes, Ferreira sent a golden chance wide in the 55th minute (on a play that originated from solid pressing) and Vazquez skied a great opportunity from 10 yards in the second half. Converting any of those would have changed the game.

But it arguably would have come against the run of play as Panama had the bulk of possession with some great chances. Matt Turner had to make big saves in both halves and Panama had two goals rightfully called back for offside.

The breakthrough came in the 99th minute when Anderson beat Turner to a ball outside the box. He moved past him and sent it into an open net for a 1-0 lead.

But the U.S. team responded well in the 105th minute when Matt Miazga sent a long ball into the box, Jordan Morris headed it to Ferreira for a classy volley finish.

But in the shootout, Panama was superior after converting 5/6 opportunities. The U.S. team fell in the sixth round when Cristian Roldan failed to make his attempt.

The U.S. team is now done for the summer and will next return to action in September with friendlies against Uzbekistan and Oman. Those games will mark the return of Gregg Berhalter who will rejoin the team as the head coach.

Here are some thoughts on the tournament and the loss.


Why the U.S. team lost?


First, Panama is on the upswing right now. It comes at a time in CONCACAF when Honduras and Costa Rica are not as strong as they have been for most of the past two decades. They are a good team under head coach Thomas Christiansen and have a very good chance this cycle in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying that will be without the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The U.S. was tired and needed to win this game and came up empty. Crossing and finishing was especially poor against Panama. When the U.S. team got to extra time, their chances of winning the tournament were slim. Even if they prevailed against Panama in the shootout, playing 240 minutes within days of each other would not have put them in a position to seriously compete in the final.

The team needed to create more and finish with more precision, but it came up short against a well-coached Panama team that smelled blood. It’s a thin line, and the U.S. team was on the short ended.


Gold Cup lessons


It wasn’t a bad experience for the U.S. team. For many, it was their first chance to gain international tournament experience. Promising players like Brandon Vazquez, Bryan Reynolds, Alejandro Zendejas, John Tolkin, Aidan Morris, Cade Cowell, Jalen Neal, and DeJuan Jones were playing extensive minutes for the first time in such an environment.

For many who had experience, it was their first time being back after an extended absence. James Sands won the 2021 Gold Cup but he is now shifting to the midfield with the U.S. team. Gianluca Busio also had been away for awhile amid a tough season at Venezia. Matt Miazga as well hasn’t been a regular fixture in a few years.

Was the team disjointed? Sure. But that was also to be expected given the lack of familiarity among the pool.

I don’t like the use of the “A-team” or “B-team” terminology because there is one player pool. Sure, we know many of the established players, but predicting a 26-player roster for a tournament three years away is a fool’s errand. A chance to improve the whole player pool is a good choice.

The point is to get as many players experience as possible so that they’re more prepared and not learning the ropes in the future. The USMNT played well in the Nations League. But that was with a core that had been together for years. That team was wildly disjointed at one point too (the loss in Toronto to Canada in the Nations League in 2020 was a low point).  

What you will see from this group of players is that some will fade out of the picture. Some might go away for a while but could return for additional looks if they surge with their clubs. Some will get looks in the fall with the core from the Nations League. Others will shift to the U-23 Olympic team, which historically has been a great springboard for young players to transition to the full national team afterward.


What’s next for the players?

For this Gold Cup roster, it’s not the end of the road for many players. Some are easy to figure out.

Matt Turner and Miles Robinson will likely be back with the team in the fall. Jordan Morris still remains a backup winger when fully healthy, which he wasn’t at this tournament.

One of the big winners on this roster was James Sands who looked vastly improved at defensive midfield after his best moments for the national team had come in central defense. DeJuan Jones likewise helped his case as a backup left back.

Brandon Vazquez and Jesus Ferreira are in the mix, but competition is not much tighter with the addition of Folarin Balogun to the striker player pool.  Matt Miazga is tough to read, but he has struggled in the past under Gregg Berhalter.

Alejandro Zendejas had a rough tournament, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him need a strong run at Club America to get back into the mix. Julian Gressel also had a tough tournament but he doesn’t have the benefit of youth.

DeAndre Yedlin has benefited getting callups based on a wealth of experience that now includes two World Cups, 110 Premier League games, experience in the Championship, the CONCACAF Champions League, MLS, and Turkey. But as the player pool matures, that gap of experience doesn’t mean as much.

Bryan Reynolds, Gianluca Busio, Cade Cowell, Jalen Neal, John Tolkin, and Aidan Morris were all up and down but also with some impressive high points. Gaga Slonina remained on the bench. These players are all eligible for the U.S. U-23 team for the 2024 Olympics and should be considered good options for that team. This tournament could give them a good springboard into that team as it gets underway, probably later this year. But their inclusion with this team was certainly beneficial in that regard.


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