In a match that sent the United States to the top of the hexagonal table, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men showed they belong in the group’s elite.
With the 2-0 win over Panama, not only are the Stars and Stripes primed to control their own destiny on their way to Brazil 2014, but the numbers are with them as well. According to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, which uses computer simulations to predict outcomes, the United States now have a 98.5% chance to qualify for the World Cup. I’d say those are pretty good odds.
As the hosts held home turf yet again, Seattle showed their atmosphere is possibly second to none despite a bit of controversy surrounding the venue prior to kickoff. Nothing is a given in the Hex on the road, but at home, the United States has done their job. They’re undefeated in World Cup qualifiers since 2001, going 22-0-2 during that span. Tuesday night was no different.
It was a total dominance, as Panama had difficulty establishing a presence, and other than a short period before halftime and another short spell before the final whistle, they offered little in the attacking third.
Even though the visitors offered little quality to challenge the U.S., there were still things to be learned about the squad.
1) Role players are ready to step up anywhere they’re needed
With Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones out, a couple of players shuffled positions with positive results. Geoff Cameron played out of his mind in the holding midfielder role, allowing Michael Bradley to venture up forward. This had a positive effect on the club in two separate ways.
First, Cameron’s ball-winning skills were on display. He stepped in front of countless passes, and made tackles to keep Panama from building. A quality holding midfielder can have a massive effect on a match, usually quite under the radar, because when there is no buildup it often goes unnoticed. Cameron kept Panama from even attempting to create many chances. His passes were off on occasion, especially in the beginning, but he gets a pass on that (sorry, that was awful) because of his absolutely brilliant ball to Eddie Johnson for the second goal.
Second, Bradley in the attack was a welcome sight for USMNT fans. He had a number of venomous shots on goal from distance, including one that would have gone in had Clint Dempsey been gifted with reflexes just a split-second quicker. In addition, Bradley’s chance creation skills were beautifully displayed all match. For example, in the 79th minute Bradley played a long ball out to Altidore, who connected with a running DaMarcus Beasley in search of a third goal, although the shot clanged off the post. With Cameron back, Bradley grabbed the limelight – exactly how Klinsmann drew it up.
Whether it’s a first-team regular or an injury replacement, Klinsmann’s shown he’s willing to ride the hot hand, and between Cameron, Beasley, Altidore, Besler, Zusi, and both Fabian and Eddie Johnson, he’s got those who are clicking on the pitch out there and it’s working. The bossman will need more of the same against Honduras as Beasley will miss the next match due to yellow card accumulation.
2) Jozy Altidore is bursting with confidence
The 23-year-old forward, with the monkey off his back, has now scored in three straight international matches. It started with the goal against Germany, a straightforward yet difficult volley into the top corner off a wonderful cross. That goal has done a world of good for Jozy’s confidence, and it grows with every match.
It’s no coincidence the New Jersey native continues to find space in the box for these shots – Jurgen Klinsmann even mentioned in the postmatch press conference Tuesday night about how Jozy’s now not only using his vision to find space, but using his body as well. Klinsmann said he spoke directly with AZ Alkmaar technical director Earnie Stewart – a Dutch-American with 101 USMNT caps to his name – about improving Jozy’s physical presence, and it’s working wonders.
Need proof? There were two obvious moments in the Panama match. First, his goal. A cool finish from a tight angle, even with the goal gaping, any hesitation from that angle and he’s on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10 plays. Instead, it’s cool as a cucumber for the opening goal.
Second, he had a chance to put the U.S. three up with a long-range strike that stung the hands of keeper Jaime Penedo. The rebound fell to Clint Dempsey who bounced it just over with a volley. Nobody takes that kind of distance shot without oozing confidence, which is exactly what Jozy did. ‘Nuff said.
3) The team doesn’t look at the clock or the scoreboard
I mean this in a very positive way. 2-0 up at home against a Panama side struggling mightily, Klinsmann could have easily shut down shop, putting on an extra defender and closing the book. Instead, he went for the jugular, and I love it.
The U.S. men could be 2-0 or 12-0 up and they’d be looking for more. It almost cost a goal in stoppage time, but I think Klinsmann knows that inviting pressure with the intent of staving it off is asking for trouble, and goal difference could mean the world with the way the hex is shaping up. Keep it up boys.