U.S. and Panama Battle to a Draw in a Tense Qualifier
March 28, 2017
AT HOME, on Friday, there was space to spare and the United States men's national team scored early and often against a Honduras team that didn't always seem up for the fight.
On the road, tonight, it was a proper CONCACAF war.
Panama came after the Americans, bullied its star player, Christian Pulisic, and gave Bruce Arena's team everything it could handle.
In the end, both teams left with a point—a fair result for a typically foul-tempered CONCACAF battle.
The first 30 minutes featured tough challenges, poor passing, and a questionable pitch—the three main ingredients in a Central American World Cup qualifier.
But then, in the 39th minute, against the run of play, the obscenely talented Pulisic created something out of nothing.
It all started when Jermaine Jones blasted a ball down the right flank from the U.S. half of the field. Pulisic and Panama's Felipe Baloy both had a shot at the ball but the 140-pound 18-year-old outmuscled the 200-pound 36-year-old and establshed possession.
But that was just the start of the sequence. Pulisic then raced around Baloy, danced past Panama defender Ramon Torres, and then found Clint Dempsey with a perfectly weighted pass that ended up in the back of Jaime Penedo's net.
The goal confirmed everything we saw Friday night in San Jose, Calif.: Pulisic is the maestro the U.S. national team has been looking for. Unfortunately for Arena and Co., Panama brought its own mix tape to the match.
With the crowd screaming its support, Panama scored a sloppy goal just before intermission. It started with an Adolfo Machado throw-in that bounced off U.S. defender Tim Ream and fell perfectly to Gabriel Gomez, who slammed the ball past Tim Howard.
Panama deserved the goal, and would look to build on its momentum once play resumed in the second half.
And the home team might have done just that, if not for Tim Howard.
Just before the hour mark, a lofted pass caught the attention of two Yanks—Ream and Jones—and one Panamanian, Torres. Torres won the aerial battle and nodded the ball toward Luis Tejada, who was loitering in the penalty area.Tejada pounced on the ball and laced it toward the U.S. goal but Howard stoned his low shot to keep things level.
Two minutes later Panama earned a corner kick that produced another chance. The cross ricocheted around Howard's six-yard box like it was inside a Pachinko but Jorge Villafana cleared the ball away just in time.
From that point on, neither team produced any stellar chances and both teams seemed content with a draw. The game ended 1-1, a result the U.S. will take even if its fans were expecting more.
Arena brought on three subs—Alejandro Bedoya, Kellyn Acosta, and Paul Arriola—but none of them managed to put their mark on the game.
Pulisic and Dempsey, who were so lethal against Honduras and managed to connect again tonight, did not have any magic left in them. Jozy Altidore was a non-factor throughout the contest. Jermaine Jones provided some venom but was not a difference-maker. Michael Bradley played hard and defended well, but did not rise up in key moments.
With the draw. the Yanks are now in fourth place in World Cup qualifying, trailing Panama by just one point but well behind Mexico and Costa Rica. Next up is Trinidad & Tobago, at home, on June 8.
Three days later, the U.S. will face Mexico at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City.
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