What we learned from Sunday’s United States Gold Cup victory over Panama

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  • It’s a final, and we know what those look like

The Gold Cup may be only a “tournament-lite” in that the regional big boys chose to send the junior varsity. But the rule on finals – teams get tight and the action bogs down, generally producing matches that are decidedly, well, less than lovely – still applies in lesser tournament. And how.

Sunday’s 1-0 U.S. win at Soldier Field looked nothing like Wednesday’s mostly wide-open semifinal win over Honduras.

A championship is a championship, and good on the United States, clearly the Gold Cup’s top team. But as aesthetics go … well, no need to save this on the DVR.

  • Jurgen Klinsmann (and staff!) keeps making great decisions

One week ago, Eddie Johnson scored 14 seconds after coming onto the field against El Salvador. Check the box on “Great sub!” with that one.

Sunday in Chicago, Brek Shea need a bit longer – just over 40 seconds. Check that box again.

I mean, this kind of prescience would scare the bejeebers out of Las Vegas!

In the bigger picture, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have the Midas touch with his choices. Brek Shea (pictured) was a late Gold Cup roster addition; he scored two goals. (Yes, one was tap-in … but being in the right places counts for something, and Shea’s straight-line approach to opposition goal paid off twice.)

Adding Matt Besler and Eddie Johnson for the elimination matches looks smart, given the results. Hard to argue that Clarence Goodson over Omar Gonzalez in Sunday’s lineup was the right choice given the result. And Gonzalez’s insertion late at Soldier Field proved worthwhile as the big Galaxy center back thumped away several of Panama’s late probing balls of desperation.

The bigger-picture choices on guys like Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden seem validated, too. (Fingers crossed for Holden, of course.) But there will be more time to discuss that. Back to Sunday …

(MORE: United States Man of the Match — Alejandro Bedoya)

  • Kyle Beckerman does his job

I know it’s not enough for some people, who continue to want the Real Salt Lake man to be more, do more, try more, etc.

But that positional discipline, that ability to win the ball, win tackles, distribute simply and wait for the next chance to do it all again … all that stuff is so critical in a match like Sunday’s, when less disciplined men might grow impatient and wander too far forward. That is exactly what Panama wanted, to defend and defend and hope to catch the United  States leaning too far into the attack.

Teams need balance and Beckerman provides a bunch of it. No, he’s not about to displace Michael Bradley or even Jermaine Jones on coming World Cup qualifier rosters. But for depth in the pool, Beckerman as a holding midfield specialist provides essential value.

  • Michael Parkhurst is solid defensively, but …

I was surprised at the apparent surprise that Michael Parkhurst lacked initiative in pushing up the right and overlapping Sunday, unable to create that critical defensive confusion while working in tandem with Alejandro Bedoya.

Because he’s just not that guy. Don’t we know that? When he can barely dent the game against the small fries of the tournament (on offense, that is), do we really believe he is going to unleash some secret, here-to unseen attacking arsenal against what was clearly the second best team at the Gold Cup?

Parkhurst is what he is: a converted center back who is adequate at defense chores along the right, although vulnerable to faster feet.

(MORE: Shea goal guides U.S. to fifth Gold Cup title, 1-0 win over Panama)

  • Eddie Johnson still has some volatility about him

U.S. striker Eddie Johnson has a lot going for him right now. He’s third-ish on the pecking order of U.S. strikers. (The top choice for a Gold Cup final but still behind Jozy Altidore and probably Herculez Gomez in Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board of options.)

He’s a valued member of the Seattle Sounders club, about to be out of contract and highly desirous of remaining with the club that helped him resurrect a wayward career. Clearly, he wants to find his way into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, having played in 2006 but then bypassed for 2010. All that is to say, he is highly motivated.

So wouldn’t it be ashamed if Johnson let’s a dangerous propensity for losing his cool get the better of him. There’s just a lurking volatility about him, one that could be harmful to a team in an instant. We saw it again late Sunday when he got into a completely unnecessary set-do, issued a yellow card for retaliation indiscipline.

Don’t think future opponents won’t take notice and target Johnson as a man to pick on, to potentially incite. That’s not what you pinned on the opposition corkboard.

(MORE: Landon Donovan claims Gold Cup MVP honors)

  • Jose Torres’ stock is falling

Coming into this year’s Gold Cup, wouldn’t we all identify Jose Torres as the creative man of the moment, the guy to slice up defenses with those killer, targeted back line beaters?

Well, Sunday’s match was begging for such a guy – and Torres was nowhere to be found. Time and again in the tournament Torres did OK, but not much better than that. What we know about Klinsmann is that he is absolutely, positively not OK with just OK.

The proof was there Sunday. Joe Corona and Alejandro Bedoya got the starts. Brek Shea got the call off the bench when Corona was proving less than effective.

None of this is great news for Torres, but you cannot say the man didn’t get his chances.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.