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MLS Three Things: TFC falls again, Guzan red ruins marquee match

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Five MLS matches hit midweek to join the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in bringing a busy Wednesday for soccer in the USA (and Canada).

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

We are here to talk about three of them.

Brad Guzan deprived us of cool dual litmus tests

Two of the top teams in Major League Soccer met in Atlanta on soccer, and we can’t really tell you which team proved its mettle (Not that anyone’s doubting the quality of either).

That’s because Yohan Croizet played a delightful ball to Khiry Shelton, and Brad Guzan… didn’t… get it… right. Sent off, Sporting KC was able to break through with a pair of second half goals in a 2-0 win.

Shots were still just 18-17 for KC despite the DOGSO red, but playing in Atlanta is no picnic.

Soccer is a funny game

Toronto FC took 24 shots, 10 of them from Sebastian Giovinco, but Seattle took its chances and spun a 2-1 win out of not much in an MLS Cup Final(s) rematch Canada.

Homegrown Sounders 18-year-old Handwalla Bwana scored the winner after Magnus Wolf Eikrem took advantage of overly enthusiastic center back Michael Bradley on the opener (see video below).

TFC’s seven points are seven back of a playoff spot, and Victor Vazquez left the game with injury (Jozy Altidore is already out). Uh oh.

By the way, TFC’s best player this year after Giovinco has unquestionably been Jonathan Osorio, who bagged another goal tonight. The 25-year-old hometown kid is completing better than 90 percent of his passes.

On the flip side, Auro has been a major defensive liability several times this season. Hey, maybe we’ll see a proper 90 (or more) from these two in December.

Kevin Ellis: Golden Boot candidate

In his first 90 professional games, Kevin Ellis scored six goals.

The 26-year-old defender now has two in his last two, and this one is pretty nice.

Chicago needed this win, which pulls it back within sight of the playoffs. Montreal did not need this loss, its seventh of the young season.

Three things from the USMNT’s uninspiring draw

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Brad Guzan played a starring role on Saturday in Nashville, and is likely the reason the United States men’s national team was able to manufacture a draw with Panama.

B team or not, that’s not a good thing. And Guzan made no excuses for his disappointing XI and subs in a post-match interview on Fox Sports.

“We knew it was going to be hot. It’s no excuse. We didn’t move the ball quick enough. At times we were a bit naive. Panama’s a good team and they’re getting better. We knew we had to limit their chances. In the second half the game got away from us a little bit, and we lost our way at times.”

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Naive and lost is not a way to win a Gold Cup, but fortunately the Yanks can get healthy for the knockout rounds with upcoming group stage matches against Martinique and Nicaragua, who play later Saturday.

This isn’t a well-oiled machine

Look: There’s no question the United States men’s national team, even a B Team, should beat Panama at home almost 10 times out of 10.

So don’t look to this as excuse-making when we note that Bruce Arena’s mish-mash of a back line and unfamiliar five-man midfield probably need some more time to gel.

Aside from Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez’s center back partnership — the former of which was very good while the latter just meh — the guys haven’t spent a lot of time together, nor have they played together in that formation.

Kellyn Acosta may be the perfect man to slot alongside Michael Bradley, but he wasn’t a good mix on Saturday with Dax McCarty. We point this out because that duo looked pretty darn good a week ago against Ghana, the sort of thing that can happen when chemistry is growing and one of those players turns 22 in a fortnight. If it doesn’t work, well, there are a lot of us who wouldn’t mind seeing Cristian Roldan get a look.

The midfield didn’t come out of the oven like it looked in Arena’s cookbook, and Dom Dwyer was often left wanting for service and touches on the ball.

Right back worries

Graham Zusi is not going to be Bruce Arena’s first option at right back should the Yanks progress to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If the coach wants to make a deep run in this tournament, he probably shouldn’t be come the quarterfinals.

A good midfielder with tenacity and leadership, Zusi is not quick enough to close down attackers at right back. With respect to Panama left wing Miguel Camargo, who looks like he has plenty in his tool bag, the U.S. cannot be continually victimized for speed at that position in any game of relative meaning.

Eric Lichaj has to wonder, as a man who’s done about everything for Nottingham Forest, why he can’t get a look at right back over a man who’s been playing the position for a brief period of time.

Guzan makes his case… to stay No. 2

With Zusi and Omar Gonzalez having some problems at the back, the United States needed several big saves from Brad Guzan and the Atlanta United backstop delivered plenty.

Whether or not Guzan was wondering what he has to do to get better from his back line is another story (With respect to Boro’s Calum Chambers and George Friend).

While few will be begging Arena to place Guzan ahead of Tim Howard, it’s good to be reminded that the Illinois ‘keep has star performances in his locker.

USMNT underwhelms in Gold Cup opening draw (video)

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Dom Dwyer recorded his second USMNT cap with his second USMNT goal, as the U.S. began its 2017 Gold Cup with a 1-1- draw with Panama in Nashville on Saturday.

The match was the first opening match of a Gold Cup not won by the Americans.

It’s far too early in the tournament to say the United States saw its depth exposed, but it’s hard to find too many strong performances short of Matt Besler, Brad Guzan, and Kelyn Rowe.

[ MORE: Player ratings3 things ]

Guzan rescued an early bit of danger in the U.S. 18, while Panama’s Jose Calderon parried a long but hard strike from Kelyn Rowe.

Panama’s Luis Ovalle slipped while trying to clear a ball, and the U.S. won a corner when Alejandro Bedoya opted for a hard tight-angled cross instead of cutting the ball back into the heart of the 18.

While Kellyn Acosta was lively in attack, he gave away the ball in the midfield in the 21st minute. That allowed Anibal Godoy to play a dangerous through ball that Omar Gonzalez handled well.

The Yanks produced a solid chance off a really good stretch of possession when Jorge Villafana cued up Rowe for a shot, but the New England player had to settle a bouncing ball and that allowed Calderon to get into position for a stop.

Play went the other way, and Guzan had to stretch to paw away a curling effort from Camargo when Zusi allowed the Panamanian attacker a bit of space and time.

Largely, however, the first half was disjointed, perhaps to be expected given the unit’s lack of game time together.

The U.S. went ahead in the 50th minute when Rowe’s left-footed cross was turned home by Dwyer on the half turn.

Guzan made a terrific save when Torres just won a battle with Zusi at the far post, but Ismael Díaz somehow shot over the bar from inside the six.

Guzan then bailed Zusi out again in the 60th minute, but Camargo put the rebound inside the far post.

The Yanks were out of sorts at the back, and made a sub at the front with Juan Agudelo entering for Joe Corona.

A few minutes later, it was Arena’s not-so-old Galaxy pal Gyasi Zardes into the fray for the injured Rowe. Zardes hadn’t scored for LA in 12 games, and both club and country were hoping for a quick fix via the international pitch.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s draw with Panama

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The United States men’s national team looked like a team without its stars and still learning to play together in a 1-1 draw with Panama to kick off their Gold Cup run on Saturday in Nashville.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Who upped their stock, who middled, and who wasn’t much to watch on Saturday?

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — An exceptional game from the Atlanta United backstop, who — let’s face it — spared the U.S. the humiliation of an opening loss.

Jorge Villafana — 6 — Remains the side’s top option at left back for now, and the reps help for the WCQ ahead.

Omar Gonzalez — 5 — Not inspiring confidence, but not a garbage fire. Always delivers a highlight play to moves hopes upward, so we’ll withhold our Gold Cup judgement.

Matt Besler — 8 — An exceptional night for the one star man from a back line that struggled mightily.

Graham Zusi — 4 — Regardless of what’s cooking at SKC, he’s a midfielder playing right back. That’s not really on him, and he had some moments later pushed further up the pitch that saved him from an even lower number.

Dax McCarty — 5 — Some good breakups in the first half, but altogether didn’t make the expected impact.

Kellyn Acosta — 5 — Two-straight equalizers where he’s swimming upstream. He’s going to be a very good American player, and that should make this match one of his more forgettable ones.

Kelyn Rowe (Off 69′) — 7 — Was perhaps the only source of danger for the U.S. in the first half, then provided an assist before playing a significant role in Panama’s equalizer.

Alejandro Bedoya (Off 85′) — 6 — Not an awful day for the captain, who came close to earning a penalty in the final 10 minutes.

Joe Corona (Off 63′) — 5 — Some decent moments of creativity, but a touch too slow to be a difference maker on the day.

Dom Dwyer — 7 — Didn’t have a lot to do, but took his chance well to make sure U.S. fans could cheer a home goal.

Subs

Juan Agudelo (On 63′) — 6 — Provided a lift almost immediately, and will get a more prolonged chance to impress somewhere down the line.

Gyasi Zardes (On 69′) — 5 — His lacking confidence from club showed, as both he and fellow sub Morris have two goals in 28 MLS matches this year. Morris has both.

Jordan Morris (On 85′) — N/A — Still not a lot to love with the left foot.

USA 2-1 Ghana: Dwyer, Acosta power USMNT in Gold Cup tune-up

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The U.S. national team’s future is looking quite alright after all, if Saturday’s 2-1 victory, over Ghana, by Bruce Arena’s “B-team” Gold Cup squad is any indication.

Dom Dwyer and Kellyn Acosta got the goals for an experimental side which should see plenty of minutes starting next Saturday when the 2017 CONCACAF tournament kicks off.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The story of the first half was Dwyer. The 26-year-old English-born striker became an American citizen in March and made his USMNT debut on Saturday. After missing a pair of chances inside his first 15 minutes in the Red, White and Blue, Sporting Kansas City’s star striker hit pay dirt in the 19th minute (WATCH HERE).

Joe Corona fired from well outside the penalty area, his shot blocked and sent high into the air by a Ghanaian defender. Dwyer, who was only held onside by a late-arriving defender, lashed at the waist-high ball with his left foot, smashing it past Richard Ofori Antwi for a debut goal.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Ghana’s way back into the game came and went in first-half stoppage time, as Jorge Villafaña got wrong side of his man and tugged at his jersey, gifting the Black Stars a penalty in the process. Brad Guzan bailed out the Santos Laguna left back with a save at his left-hand post to deny Asamoah Gyan with the final kick of the opening 45 minutes.

The story of the second half way the continued emergence of Acosta as arguably the USMNT’s best central midfielder, at the age of 21. Partnering Dax McCarty in the middle of the park, Acosta showed complete control of the game’s tempo and got himself on the scoresheet with a stunning free kick in the 52nd minute.

[ MORE: Germany, Chile set for Confed Cup final on Sunday ]

Ghana pulled a goal back right on the hour mark, as Gyan’s free kick upstaged that of Acosta. Perfectly placed and hit with power, Guzan was never getting to the upper-90 to deny Ghana’s all-time record goalscorer.

The Yanks kick off their Gold Cup campaign next Saturday, in Nashville, against Panama.