The United States men’s national team started the 2017 Gold Cup on Saturday afternoon with a frustrating, disappointing and dispiriting 1-1 draw against Panama in Nashville. It was the fourth straight 1-1 draw in competitive competition between the two teams, and like the previous three matches (dating back to the 2015 Gold Cup group stage), it left much to be desired.
One could not be blamed for dozing off during an especially boring first half. Neither team looked particularly interested in putting together coherent strings of possession, resulting in sloppy turnovers and a game that did not come close to the standards of a 45,000-plus crowd in Tennessee. The second game of Fox’s doubleheader, Martinique vs. Nicaragua, should have been more likely to deserve that unflattering description.
The second half saw two goals and a few Brad Guzan saves, but aside from that, it was more of the same. Panama were as organized as ever without the ball, but like the U.S., seemed without a coordinated game-plan when forced to take possession, and, predictably, a less than aesthetically-pleasing game resulted.
To properly analyze this match, we have to look at the individual performances and Bruce Arena’s coaching decisions, some of which are worth questioning.
• Arena sent out a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Dom Dwyer starting up top and Joe Corona underneath him as a No. 10. Alejandro Bedoya wore the captain’s armband, and he played on the right wing opposite Kelyn Rowe. The rest is here.
The lineup looked similar to the one played to great success a week ago against Ghana. McCarty and Kellyn Acosta were together in deep midfield, and in very important auditions for future roles, they didn’t look great. Acosta knows it:
Crap performance..Has to be better.. Thanks for the support as always!
— Kellyn Acosta (@KellynAcosta) July 8, 2017
Neither were sharp on or off the ball, and McCarty often took too many risks in possession, as if he were trying to do to much in an effort to impress the coach. They weren’t organized as a pair, and as a result, Panama found gaps through the channels of the backline and took advantage just enough to put one past Guzan. The back-four deserves a portion of blame, but also remember that Acosta and McCarty did not do enough to track runners and plug gaps.
Long touches and, as mentioned earlier, misplaced passes were common, so the attackers did not receive an adequate amount of service, especially to their feet in space. Panama’s compressed 4-4-2 outnumbered and tactically outmaneuvered the USMNT’s midfield pair, so much so that the game became almost unwatchable for stretches.
So, stock down for these two.
• Don’t get on them too much, because Corona was nowhere to be found for the 61 minutes he spent on the field. MLSsoccer.com columnist Matt Doyle’s scouting report on the Tijuana man written before the game illustrated his practicality, conservative effectiveness, and tendency to work from deeper positions, and noted that his main weakness was a lack of willingness to attempt more difficult plays. Corona did not live up to his billing.
Corona seemed to be unwilling to involve himself in possession, and instead spent much of his time higher up the field next to Dwyer, like a second striker. He didn’t get the ball a lot, and when he did, nothing came of it.
Part of the reason that the USMNT’s midfield was so overwhelmed was the lack of help from Corona, and Dwyer spent much of the game isolated due to his inability to find the ball and circulate it forward. The hosts instantly improved when Juan Agudelo entered with 30 minutes left and switched the formation to a 4-4-2, with Agudelo playing as sort of a hold-up false 9.
•Dwyer scored the goal, and Rowe got the assist. Dwyer showed his primary flaw as a No. 9 in this game, which is his lack of ability to be an attacking hub for his team. But he also showed a strength, which is getting into goalscoring positions and finishing them off. The converted Englishman now has two goals in two games for the U.S. since getting his citizenship.
Rowe started on the wing and it was his solo move that resulted in Dwyer’s goal. For the U.S., he can pretty easily be considered the Man of the Match, and it’s fair to question why he never got a run as a No. 10.
•Arena was a bit too conservative in his attacking personnel decisions. Panama’s bunkered, compact 4-4-2 could have been broken down more easily by field-stretching, channel-running wingers, so Arena’s decision to start Rowe and Bedoya on the flanks — players with their own strengths, but neither is especially fast — was questionable, moreso when considering the likes of Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris remained confined to the bench.
The ideal attacking lineup would have likely been Rowe centrally as a No. 10 and some combination of Arriola, Morris, Chris Pontius, and Gyasi Zardes on the flanks.
He may not have been referring specifically to this oversight, but Arena was candid after the game:
Classic Bruce Arena. Confusing soliloquy by reporter about #usmnt subs. Patiently listens, deadpans: “We were a poorly coached team today.”
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) July 8, 2017
•One last thing: The USMNT stocks of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Jorge Villafana, and Omar Gonzalez dropped on Saturday. Plummeted, even, in the cases of Zusi and Besler.
They were disorganized and gappy for much of the day, clearly lacking the presence of an organizer like usual starting center back Geoff Cameron. Matt Hedges and Eric Lichaj should be seen soon.