7817_isi_rowekelyn_usmntjd070817154 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Match Report

Scrappy Panama Battles Sloppy Yanks to a 1-1 Draw

Sloppy defending and sluggish play in the center of the field plagued the U.S. men's national team Saturday, resulting in a disappointing 1-1 draw with Panama in the group stage opener of the 2017 Gold Cup. 
BY John Godfrey Posted
July 08, 2017
11:45 AM

PLAYING WELL IN A FRIENDLY, even against a quality team, is one thing. Replicating that sort of performance in an official competition is quite another.

A makeshift collection of U.S. national team players learned that lesson Saturday in Nashville as a determined Panama side held the Yanks to a 1-1 draw in the Gold Cup opener for both clubs.

Dom Dwyer opened the scoring for the Americans in the 50th minute after Kelyn Rowe made a beautiful play to set up the goal. But the visitors outplayed the U.S. for long stretches and should have left Tennessee with all three points.

Bruce Arena made just two changes from the roster he used last weekend against Ghana: Omar Gonzalez replaced Matt Hedges in central defense and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya supplanted Paul Arriola, who gave a somewhat anonymous performance in East Hartford, Conn.

Dwyer once again started alone up top and Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, and Kellyn Acosta renewed their partnership in the middle of the field. Rowe switched sides, moving from right wing to the left.

The opening 20 minutes were mostly uneventful. Graham Zusi got caught ball-watching and nearly gifted Panama an early chance and the Sporting Kansas City veteran later made a risky attempt for a steal that backfired and created an outnumbered attack. 

The other fullback, Jorge Villafana, was beaten several times in one-on-one situations, but the visitors failed to capitalize. 

The teams traded shots on goal right before the half-hour mark. Villafana charged into the penalty area, drew several defenders, and then dropped a nice pass to Rowe. The New England Revolution attacker couldn't quite get the ball out of his feet and his shot on goal flew straight to Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon, who blocked it easily.

On the subsequent counterattack, Zusi gave Panama's Miguel Camargo too much space and the Central American took advantage, forcing Brad Guzan to make a diving save to keep things level.

The heat and humidity mandated a hydration break at the 30-minute mark, and at this juncture the U.S. maintained a very slight advantage in terms of possession and play. But the Yanks seemed to wilt in the latter stages of the first half, ceding control of the match to a Panama side that played faster and with more energy. 

Corona, McCarty, Bedoya, and the two U.S. fullbacks failed to impress in the opening 45, but nobody really stood out. Arena did not make any changes at the break.

The Americans got on the scoreboard five minutes in to the second half when Rowe displayed some dazzling technique to create space on the left wing and sent a cross to Dwyer. The SKC striker turned a half-chance into a tally by placing a left-footed shot into the far corner.

The Yanks may not have deserved a lead, but they had one.

Panama responded quickly but wasted two gilded chances within a two-minute span.

The first came in the 53rd minute when Gabriel Torres beat Zusi—badly—to a cross and headed the ball hard and low toward goal. Guzan made a wonderful reaction save but the rebound fell straight to Panama's Ismael Diaz De Leon, who somehow botched a wide-open shot from two yards out. It was a shockingly bad miss. 

Seconds later, Yoel Bárcenas nearly equalized with a right-footed shot but Guzan parried it away.

And then Panama finally scored the goal it deserved.

The sequence started down the right wing as Barcenas slipped past Rowe (who should not have gone to ground) and placed a dangerous cross into the six-yard box. Guzan blocked Torres' shot but the rebound fell to Camargo, who once again outpaced Zusi and placed the ball into the back of the net. 

Panama should have been up 2-1 at this point—or perhaps 3-1—but the score was level.

Looking to change things up, Arena removed the utterly anonymous Corona at the 62nd minute mark and brought in Juan Agudelo. The move brought the Yanks a quick jolt of energy, and for a brief spell the increasingly motivated Yanks pushed to reclaim the lead. Twenty minutes later, however, the score remained 1-1 and players on both teams looked exhausted.

Arena brought on Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris as the game drew to a close but neither got into the flow of the game and the two teams shared a point.

What did you think of the match? Did anybody help their cause? Hurt? Share your take in the Comments section below. 

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