Panama 1, US 0: USA's first defeat in World Cup qualifying

Continuing the good vibes from one performance to the next can be difficult, it turns out, when you change all of your top performers. ...

Continuing the good vibes from one performance to the next can be difficult, it turns out, when you change all of your top performers.

It was one of the hard lessons the American men’s soccer team learned on Sunday as they fell limply to welcome Panama, 1-0, in their fifth 2022 World Cup qualifying game.

Things had looked so different on Thursday when the Americans stomped on a 2-0 win over Jamaica in Austin, Texas. But with a quick turn-around between games – and a third game to be played Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio – US coach Gregg Berhalter has made seven roster changes.

The result of cycling in all these different faces was a completely unrecognizable performance from the Americans, who struggled to connect on passes or mount attacks as they soaked up their first loss in qualifying and fell to 2. -1-2 in the classification of the final round.

“We know we’re playing in extreme heat, extreme humidity, and we know we’ve traveled four and a half hours, and we know we have another game on Wednesday, and we wanted to spin the players,” Berhalter said. . “If it hasn’t worked, then it’s on me, and it’s my responsibility.”

To be fair, Panama offered a tougher challenge than Jamaica’s on Thursday. He had allowed just two goals in his first four games, and a loss last week in El Salvador left the Panamanians eager to regain their foothold in front of their home fans.

The loss, in Berhalter’s 40th game as the team’s coach, ended his 13-game unbeaten streak. The United States play their third and final game of the month against Costa Rica on Wednesday night in Columbus.

Such an aggressive rotation of rosters from match to match during qualifying has become a favored option for many coaches – and especially for those who believe they have many talents – after FIFA changed its scheduling rules to allow confederations to organize up to three matches in each international window. Many coaches, Berhalter included, hesitated (with some exceptions) to ask players to start three games in the same week.

That meant 18-year-old forward Ricardo Pepi, who scored two goals against Jamaica on Thursday, started Sunday’s game on the bench. So are Tyler Adams, one of the team’s leaders and midfield hubs, and Brenden Aaronson, one of Berhalter’s top playmakers over the past two months.

Another regular, Weston McKennie, stayed in the United States to rest a sore leg. And Antonee Robinson and Zack Steffen, who play professionally in England and would have faced a long quarantine upon their return had they traveled to Panama, also did not make the trip.

(Other top American players, like Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna, have never joined the squad for this camp while facing their own injuries. Pulisic, for example, spent Sunday watch an NFL game in London.)

The United States, so sharp and aggressive against Jamaica, seemed to stagnate from the start against Panama. Clumsy touches and capricious passes prevented the Americans from establishing any continuity or putting together anything close to a menacing attack; they only managed five shots, but none of them went on target.

Panama was clearly the aggressor. In the 14th minute, Rolando Blackburn found himself open in front of goal, with a teammate’s cross rushing to his feet, but he took the shot at close range far from the right post, wasting the best chance of the first. half-time for either team. .

US goalie Matt Turner, who appears to have established himself ahead of Steffen as the squad’s starter with a series of assured performances this fall, has been tested overnight, watching the attacks swirl before his eyes, rising to intercept several crosses dangerous and making many nervous saves.

He was finally beaten in the 54th minute, after Panama won a corner kick. Left-back Eric Davis deflected the kick sharply towards the near post, where several players jumped in to meet him. At first it was not clear who got the decisive touch – American striker Gyasi Zardes was there, as was Panama’s Anibal Godoy – but the result was clear: the ball ricocheted inside the left post. Godoy, the Panama captain, was more than happy to claim him, sprinting towards the sideline with his hand in the air before being mobbed by his teammates.

“Normally you don’t expect to give up a goal on a ball like this,” Berhalter said.

Berhalter exhausted his substitutions shortly after the break, hoping to change the course of the game. Adams and Aaronson came in to start the second half, hoping they could provide a spark. And about 20 minutes later – and with the United States now lagging behind – they were followed by Pepi, DeAndre Yedlin and Cristian Roldan.

But the burst of energy never came, and the Americans missed an opportunity to tap into the positivity that seemed to be bubbling within their group.

“I think the way to look at it – and that’s how I saw it, and now that obviously doesn’t seem like the best choice – but I think we have to wait until Thursday,” said Berhalter. “If we had faced the same players in this game, I’m not sure we would have positioned ourselves in the best way to win again on Wednesday.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Panama 1, US 0: USA's first defeat in World Cup qualifying
Panama 1, US 0: USA's first defeat in World Cup qualifying
Newsrust - US Top News
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