USA vs. Panama – Narrow pitch escapades

I remember watching the U.S. play China at Spartan Stadium in 2007.  The U.S. struggled mightily in the early going to contend with a pitch where you could read the t-shirts of the spectators on the other side of the field.

While the U.S. won 4-1 that day it wasn’t without struggling to maintain and move the ball with what little space they had. This was Bradley’s 5th game as head coach and I’m reminded of one telling parallel and one major difference from the squad that took the field in Libertyville yesterday and the tactics they employed.

The U.S. loan goal allowed that day–against an overmatched Chinese team–was yet again a cross that the U.S. team failed to contend with. The difference? The U.S. used a 4-3-2-1 formula to contend with the lack of space on wings. That served to initiate runs from the likes of Benny Feilhaber and DeMarcus Beasley, with Beasley being pulled down rounding the corner for a penalty kick and the first U.S. goal.  One other interesting note that day, it was Charlie Davies first cap for the U.S. team.

Saturday showed a U.S. team that collectively may not have grown from that point in 2007. This is not a knock on the team as they fought hard and more importantly worked hard to fatigue the Panamanians and find space in the middle of the field that led to control throughout the latter parts of the 2nd half and eventually the goal by Kenny Cooper to win it.

However, the U.S. has shown a remarkable ability not to adapt to conditions and teams they are playing against. Too often on Saturday, beyond the first touches of again, Stuart Holden, the U.S. maintained the 4-4-2 they came out and tried to go up and over to Brian Ching and, increduduously, Davy Arnaud. The former lacks the touch; the latter lacks the physicality and height. This was the extent of their offense. Too often they gave possession away. And too often they failed to make the necessary corner and looping runs that the 2007 team did at Spartan Stadium to create the space for opportunities.

It wasn’t until Robbie Rogers started drifting back into the lower left flank with Heath Pearce making runs that the game started to open on that flank. Similarly on the right it was Holden, with little room to maneveur, maintaining possession, but more importantly continuing to reverse the ball on his foot that had to create the space.

I’m not  a fan of the U.S. employing other tactics than the 4-4-2. That being said, the coach and team have to adapt midstream to the what they are seeing on the field. Perhaps lack of 1st team experience and, yes, they eventually got there Saturday as Panama tired, but let’s see some notion of that earlier in the game from the U.S. going forward.

The runs that Kenny Cooper made late in the game–though not the ideal forward for it–would have been nicer to see early on as well as the notion of spacing for the whole midfield and team.

Finally, before our summaries and player ratings, Brian Ching, Jimmy Conrad– yes you worked hard, but you are veterans of the U.S. pitch. By picking up chippy worthless fouls, deserved or undeserved in the early going, you set the stage for the ref to call the game 50/50 all day long. Bad move.

Summary – Preview Follow-up – Ratings

Best play of the game: (Davy Arnaud) Arnaud had a surpringingly good game with little to room to work. His layoff to Kyle Beckerman for the first goal shocased vision, composure and a deft touch after calmly receiving a looping cross in the box.

Most unheralded play of the game: (Clarence Goodson) Facing a defensive test on a counter in the 68th min, replacement central defender Clarence Goodson, had the diligence to chase down Panmananian winger Jose Garces on an overplayed corner while the back was disorganized. Goodson not only chased him down but displayed a shocking display of footwork to close down Garces and force the poor pass backwards.  Just one of many excellent plays by Goodson throughout the day.

Golden Shinguard: Heath Pearce (by a hair over Kyle Beckerman)

Preview Follow-up

We were looking for the following:

– Let’s see if vet Jay Heaps bounces back with a standout performance at wingback

Yes and no. Heaps played a solid if unspectacular game in the back. Aided by the narrow field there wasn’t much opportunity for Heaps to be left on an island.

– Chad Marshall to be solid at managing the back and to soar for header on a cross

Marshall played a very solid game. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the lone Panama goal, but communicated very well with both Conrad and then Goodson. Stellar in one-on-one play and good on outlets. Let’s see him get more time with the regulars.

– Stu Holden to be strong for a 3rd straight game cementing his ticket on Air South Africa

Holden proved that outside of Feilhaber he is the U.S. best man for maintaining possession. Continually worked the little space he had. His crosses were better, but not great. He’s earned his spot.

– Same with Robbie Rogers on the left wing — both beating his man and successfully laying off the ball as he pulls around the corner

Robbie had a tough game, but not a bad game, by any stretch. He lost the ball many times on the wing but his tenacity it attempting to beat his man was what the U.S. needed given how little spacing they worked out. Rogers needs more experience and more playing time not less.


C: Bob Bradley  – 6

Bradley had a stronger game then certainly his last. Bradley’s hand was forced early and perhaps Clarence Goodson was all he had, but playing Goodson after Conrad’s nasty collision was a huge difference in limiting Panama to a single goal. Showed a lack of tactics early on by continually going over the top with the offense to Ching for 50/50 balls. The substitution of Kenny Coops for Davy Arnaud was well-timed and a better selection than removing Ching who continued to press. As well, the selection of Holden on the wing to move the ball with Logan Pearce working in the middle tired the Panamanians and led to later chances. Game management for Bradley an A….tactics, let’s hope for a bit better next time.

G: Troy Perkins – 6.5

A solid day for Perkins with little to contend with. Managed the backline well and was not blame for the 1st goal. Gained possession or a boot on every ball he came out the 18 on. Well played.

D: Jay Heaps- 5.5

Rebounded from a poor performance, but didn’t really contribute to the attack. When he did, tried to do to much. Was solid on the corner, but at 32 he’s probably not going to progress to the next level. I’ll change that tune with a strong performance against a more aggressive Honduran team.

D: Jimmy Conrad – (Inc), leaning towards a 5

Conrad had a better game than at Foxboro, playing stellar in the center. Received a vicious–and late–hit on the jaw that saw him dazed and walked from the field in the final mins of the first half. I have two gripes with Conrad given that he’s a veteran, his emotion and picking up the yellow. While the yellow was not warranted that he received for a small push in the Panamanian box, he nevertheless put himself in that position. Secondly, Conrad was extremely emotional — which is better if you are playing in the corner less valuable if you were marshaling the defense. His fire may warrant a sub role in a year though.

D: Chad Marshall – 7

Was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the lone goal as mentioned above — nevertheless he got in front of his offender to the ball.  He was extremely decisive in the middle, communicated well with Perkins and played excellent possession vs. outlet soccer on the takeaways. I’m continually impressed by his game, specifically his positioning.

D: Heath Pearce – 8

Played a superb game all around — from funneling men, to knowing when to overlap to stonewalling his corner. He of course, was helped by having again that narrow field, but Pearce moved exceedingly well and confidently. His movement in the second half with Rogers in front of him really opened up the field and he narrowly missed a goal on a feed from Beckerman in the 2nd half.

M: Stu Holden – 7.5

Holden played another excellent game, once again showing his class and his supreme ability with the first touch. Was masterful in distributing the ball–it would not an exaggeration to say he was Claude Makeleleian in distribution. Continually tracked back on opposite side runs. His service was better, but still slightly erratic and he tried to control the ball instead of booting it out on the opposite side goal, but those were mistakes of execution not education. Well played again Stu.

M: Logan Pause – 6.5

Tireless work ethic in the middle in running the Panamanians ragged and played extremely well coming back to the ball, but his skill was a notch below Sam Cronin’s. A poor man’s Ricardo Clark his workrate was very high, but his role is a bit redundant for the U.S. Let’s see what Wednesday brings.

M: Kyle Beckerman – 7.5

This is a tough one. Beckerman was clearly at his best once the pace slowed. His second half earned him a rating of 8.5. His vision–as I commented last week–is his strength. Whether the U.S. weren’t making runs in the first half or he couldn’t fine them, Beckerman needed the pinball to move just a tad slower to be effective. Came back well, but tackling was average. Has the potential to be even more of a difference maker.

M: Robbie Rogers – 6.5

Some will give Rogers low marks for the game. What I saw was a player who is not quite there trying to make runs that reminded me of a young Clint Dempsey. Rogers had very little space to work with and tried to link up some plays. Was dispossessed often, but he helped to open up the field with his threat. Dropped back and adjusted with Pearce in the second half an opened up space. I was pleased with his play.

S: Davy Arnaud – 7

Arnaud played a very solid game in a game that didn’t play to his strengths. Competed in the air for balls played over the top (though he lost a fair amount) and tried as well to adjust to the game throughout. Was responsible for the play of the game in getting the U.S. on the board early. Well done.

S: Brian Ching – 7

Ching played like a tight end virtually all day long–continually throwing around his body and attempting to win the service. Narrowly missed a goal on a gorgeous Stu Holden in-swinger.  Similarly to Conrad, I’d like to see more veteran play from Ching. First, he needs to work on his first touch. Sure he’s getting roughed around, but that’s a skill you can work on — he can mirror of Emile Heskey if we accomplishes that. Secondly, he needs to stop fouling or be more discreet. Had he maintained composure a bit more — the refs would have snowballed calls in his favor. As it happenedhe only earned about 60% of the calls.


D: Clarence Goodson – 7.5

A revelation. I must admit I didn’t know much about his until after the game. However what I saw I was more than impressed with. Got beat on the cross for the goal upon entering, however beyond that, extraordinary. Extremely technical on positioning in one-on-one situations and choose well when to come up from the backline and meet an offender. I’d like to see him put on a little bit more weight on his 6’4” frame, but I can see the U.S. graduating to a Marshall-Goodson backline in 2014.

S: Kenny Cooper – 7

Cooper finally showed a little bit of what the U.S. fan support has been augering for–a tenacity to strike. One problem, he could have and should have showed a sliver more. Absolutely relentless going forward and made a good attempt to run to space instead of just try and receive service. Was versatile with his footwork and made an outstanding run to earn the penalty kick. More impressively, he stepped up instantaneously like a focused striker and demanded to take the kick–his game winner showed experience. Experience at what it takes to be a hitman. However, with more balls swung into him he was not proficient in the air. If he can execute on that part of his game, watchout because his size makes him dangerous.  Again, let’s see Cooper for more than a cameo. Let’s see him step out there in the Honduran game.

Overall for the U.S., a little work on the first touch and midfield linking and the team will bring home the Cup later this week. Till then…

One response to this post.

  1. […] Immediately after that was the Gold Cup where Bradley cobbled together a “B” team that saw Charlie Davies cement his “A” team spot, unearthed Stu Holden as a more than viable midfield option and–through injury to Jimmy Conrad–gave Clarence Goodson the opening to jumpstart his national team career. (Goodson’s 7.5 sub rating appearance revs his US team candidacy) […]


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