When we last met our protagonist–the USMNT–it was doing battle north of the border, putting out a tiny skirmish, so to speak, that was attempting to be kindled by Venezuela.
The States controlled “the battle” and at the death put the South American foe to the proverbial sword, 1-0 after a dominating display–especially in midfield–against an overmatched opponent. Good shifts were also put in in central defense where Michael Parkhurst and Geoff Cameron cleaned up all comers, like two parents guarding the home pennant in Capture The Flag against bumbling kids.
Wednesday, the States draws it’s revolver against a familiar foe in Panama, a team that gave the US their tightest two matches at the Gold Cup with the series being split 1-1. The first game being the so-called, but inaccurately-labeled “Tim Ream” match, and the second being the more aptly named “Freddy Adu Revival” game.
Panama is a rejuvenated side in no small part to TSG fave Julio Dely Valdes and the US’s success or failure against this foe will provide the best litmus test to date about the level of US possession-oriented attacking soccer and the teaching of one Jurgen Klinsmann.
Why is that?
Under Dely Valdes Panama has become a highly disciplined side, adept at the counter attack. Panama’s tactics will probably be similar to Venezuela’s on Saturday–only they’ll be better in all facets.
The US’s foe knows what’s coming and is good at preparing. Barometer time for Klinsmann’s campers.
TSG What We’re Looking For
• Does The Attacking Swashbuckling Continue?
As mentioned Panama presents a stronger squad to navigate than Venezuela. The US got both a ton of space on the ball and a lot of room to manuveur against their Saturday opponent.
The contrarian TSG was less than impressed that night though with the efforts of Benny Feilhaber and Jermaine Jones on Saturday. Panama will show just a little bit more if they are both fit for senior side trials or both pretenders more comfortable at the junior level going forward.
No Felipe Baloy–the Panamanian captain–for the home side, but the defensive integrity should still be tougher to break down.
• Cameron (+ Beckerman) vs. Ream vs. Perez?
While the comparisons would be unfair–two different systems, different competition level, different showcasing needs (Panamanian forward Blas Perez has since landed a contract with FC Dallas)–they’ll happen.
Geoff Cameron will play LCB, the position that Tim Ream did in Gold Cup when he was scapegoated for the game-winning foul on Perez and subsequent penalty for a 2-1 Panama win in the group stage. It was the USMNT’s first loss in the group stage in Gold Cup history.
Perez was crafty that day–always is–but Ream also was not shielded–because of an overtasked central midfield–from the most challenging situation for a CB: where to hold the line and how far to come up.
Ream’s mistake was one of probability, less of ability. Put a novice CB in one-on-one situations–as Ream was frequently tasked–and they’ll make a rookie mistake.
On Wednesday, expect El Germanisimo (Klinsmann?) to play a higher line with Cameron and Parkhurst and for Beckerman to shield that backline preventing fewer back-to-the-basket-and-turn chances. Perez, less than Luis Renteriea, provides less speed at getting behind a backline.
Cameron–and Parkhurst–should profit. Fans should review those few times that Cameron is tasked one-on-one for defending ability to get a good sense of where Cameron is on the senior side depth chart.
» Does Nick Rimando get a start in goal on the road?
» Does Zack Loyd get a runout at either left or rightback–his play on Saturday would seem to merit it.
» Will Jermaine Jones and Benny Feilhaber still be the quarterbacks?
» Does Teal Bunbury give way to CJ Sapong for a start or is it Chris Wondolowski who starts? Sapong seems audacious, but Bunbury did little with his chances against clearly inferior competition on Saturday.
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent: Panama
Have you heard TSG rave yet? Julio Dely Valdes….fantastic coach of Panama (as well as the country’s all-time leading scorer).
And he’s got more to the pedigree. Three years playing at La Liga side Malaga and two coaching.
Dely Valdes has been flat-out gangbusters since taking over the team with a temporary “interim” tag in September 2010. He has, of course, long since shed the interim tag.
Panama hasn’t played yet this year, but it comes off a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in November that was sandwiched amongst it’s World Cup Qualifying campaign.
Take a look at the infographic at how the Los Canaleros did in 2011. The table doesn’t lie.
Dely Valdes has made Panama more competitive through preparation, discipline and a reliance on the strengths of his midfielders and forwards–largely one-on-one play and speed. Dely Valdes takes advantage of those strengths by typically sitting deep and countering, not unlike Saturday’s opponent Venezuela only much better. The former international star will have a younger side to work this week, but expect to be no less drilled.
On the “break” Panama, much like a basketball fastbreak, will pinball the ball outside to wing who will carry vertically and make a decision off what the attacking midfielder (likely either Quintero or Sanchez tomorrow) does of whether the forwards (most certainly Perez and Renteria tomorrow) check back or make an angling or diagonal run.
When Panama commands the run of play instead of countering, expect the States’ opponent to work it quickly to their forwards and have the midfielder work off their possession of the ball. One more note, Panama is excellent on set pieces.
Finally, one last note, Panama changes up their formation and tactics at the Gold Cup after their group stage win so you can bet the the Panamanian head man has seen Jurgen Klinsmann’s goal of dictating play and pressing up the pitch and instilled–or at least attempted to instill-a game plan to thwart this.