2015 Gold Cup: Three things we learned from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with Panama

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Another 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup game for the U.S. men’s national team, another extremely labored performance that left the 18,467 spectators in attendance here at Sporting Park wondering, “Can this team really win this tournament?”

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On Monday night, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side came from behind to salvage a 1-1 draw — in a game that mattered none for the USMNT’s standing as Group A winners — with Panama. Here are three key things we learned on the night…

1. It’s time to talk about this Brooks-Alvarado center back partnership…again

There’s about 10 different examples we could point to to show that John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado just aren’t ready to be full-time USMNT starters — particularly in the first half — but we’ll go with Panama’s opening goal because we have the below video handy.

You see that? That’s a dumpster fire personified by two men. Alvarado gets abused by Luis Tejada on the turn (inside the penalty area!!! — just show him out wide and to the end line, please and thanks) and Brooks, watching all this happen from nearby, is two full steps slow getting to the near post as Blas Perez ghosts in behind him and scores the easiest international goal he’ll ever score.

Brooks also lacks the kind of mean streak that Klinsmann has long demanded from his players, which was evident every time Perez — a brilliant bruiser, admittedly — got into his body on balls in the air.This is CONCACAF, and the soccer isn’t always ever pretty. A 22-year-old center back who’s lived his entire life and played his entire career in Germany predictably struggled with that aspect of the game yet again. Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez — a pair of World Cup standouts just last year and battled-hardened CONCACAF veterans — where art thou?

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2. Building out of the back still not a viable option for USMNT For what it’s worth, it was part-John Brooks, part-Ventura Alvarado and it was even part-Kyle Beckerman tonight, but one variable remains the same in the USMNT’s seeming inability to build out of the back time after time — Klinsmann’s lineup selection and/or tactical instructions.

Herc is right, you guys. I know Klinsmann has this grand idea of how a center back should play out of the back and hit splitting forward passes through two lines to a center forward who’ll hold the ball up, combine with his strike partner and create a goalscoring opportunity from there. That’s a great dream, but it ain’t happening. Not with the players on the current USMNT roster, at least. (Matt Besler has been known to hit a ball like that from time to time, for what it’s worth.)

Instead, Brooks and Alvarado’s aggressive forward passes are consistently cut out by deep-lying midfielders and, in the blink of an eye, the U.S. midfield is suddenly rushing back to cover and the two of them are face with wave after wave of open-field counter attacks coming right at them. For the third time in three games, the USMNT was out-shot (by a pretty wide margin in all three, at that) by vastly inferior teams because of needless counter-attacking chances being gifted to them by irresponsible passing out of the back.

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3. Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey isn’t the worst strike partnership the USMNT has right now

Sure, Dempsey came on at halftime with fully fresh legs against a Panama midfield and defense that had already logged 45 minutes in the 95-degree Kansas City heat and humidity, but the former captain/still-talisman changed the game the moment the second 45 minutes kicked off.

And it wasn’t all down to the fresh legs. Dempsey and Zardes combined brilliantly — and quickly — on a number of occasions, best displayed on Bradley’s equalizer. Watch the below video of the build-up and eventual goal — that’s three passes between Dempsey and Zardes, in extremely tight quarters, over no more than 1.5 seconds.

Dempsey’s final touch, the through ball out wide while lying on his back, rewarded Bedoya for being in a dangerous area of the final third and made possible his pinpoint cross and Bradley’s composed finish.

The chemistry between Dempsey and Jozy Altidore has severely lacked through the group stage, while Dempsey and Zardes were free-flowing and, at times, effortless against Panama. Zardes has been a revelation this calendar year — and even more so this tournament — so the question begs asking: is he ready to start a Gold Cup quarterfinal?