Thoughts on the USMNT's 6-2 rout of Panama to close November camp
November 16, 2020
THE UNITED STATES national team ended its November camp with a convincing 6-2 win over Panama in Austria. The game was not without its difficulties but the U.S. team was better throughout and it proved to be a productive camp with many players earning their first caps and several making strong cases to be part of the team’s future.
The United States actually fell behind 1-0 after Jose Fajardo snuck between the central defense and headed a cross past Zack Steffen in the 8th minute.
The United States responded with three goals between the 18th and 26th minutes. It started with a Gio Reyna free kick followed by two goals from Nicholas Gioacchini – the first on a rebound from a Uly Llanez shot and the second on a header off a header from Matt Miazga.
In the second half, Panama was the better team for the first 35 minutes and Jose Fajardo reduced Panama’s deficit to 3-2 when he got past Miazga and Tim Ream for an open shot on Steffen.
But the U.S. team ended the game on the front foot as Panama simply ran out of gas. Sebastian Soto’s header off a Richard Ledezma cross gave the U.S. a 4-2 lead. Sebastian Lletget headed a cross from Reggie Cannon into the near post for a 5-2 lead. Soto capped the scoring with another header – again off Ledezma.
Here are my thoughts on the game:
Gioacchini is a real No. 9 option
The welcome news for Gregg Berhalter and the U.S. team is that it came into this camp with serious questions about the depth of No. 9 center forward position after Josh Sargent. It leaves with more answers. In this game, Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto each scored two goals. There are also promising options in Daryl Dike, Jeremy Ebobisse, and Ayo Akinola all likely coming into the mix soon.
In this game, Nicholas Gioacchini was the difference maker in the first half and was the clear MOTM. Soto did well but took advantage once Panama ran out of energy. Gioacchini had a chance to play with the best players on the team, and fit in remarkably well.
The Kansas City-born forward is Olympic eligible at age 20 and is a lock starter for his club – where he also plays on the right wing. He has a lot of physical tools that should be intriguing for Berhalter – skill but also speed and strength to boot.
His two goals were poacher goals but he positioned himself very well for the finishes. He also drew a dangerous free kick later in the half. His missed penalty will soon be forgotten. His overall numbers were impressive and what stood out, apart from the goals, was the fact he drew so many fouls - but continued to play well. He seems ready for CONCACAF.
- 77 minutes
- 3 shots
- 2 goals
- 18 touches
- 5/6 passing
- 1/1 accurate long balls
- 5 duels won
- 6 duels lost
- 1 foul
- 4x fouled
After the game, Gioacchini said he believes he still has a lot to work on but still feels he made a nice first impression into the team. It’s obvious he’ll be back with the team in 2021.
McKennie’s talent was elite
While he did not score, Weston McKennie was probably the most talented player on the field over 90 minutes. Several times in the first half, McKennie was just on another level. He dribbled past defenders with ease and was a simply too much for Panama’s defense. His only bad moment was a second half foul that could have been a red card.
His numbers reveal that he saw a lot of the ball, was extremely active, and was effective defensively, and eager to get involved physically.
- 90 minutes
- 83 touches
- 1 shot
- 44/55 passing (80%)
- 4/5 accurate long balls
- 4 dribbles (5 attempted)
- 8 duels won (9 lost)
- 5 fouls
- 2x fouled
- 4 interceptions
- 3 clearances
This was McKennie’s first appearance with the national team since joining Juventus and expectations on him are now elevated. In that respect, it was not a disappointment.
Berhalter was smart in making sure Adams and McKennie spent a lot of time together on the field. Adams was the MOTM against Wales while McKennie was strong against Panama. Their chemistry (along with health) is going to be key to the U.S. team moving forward.
Second half struggles
The score was lopsided but the game was not – for the first 80 minutes. Panama was the better team for the first 35 minutes of the second half and the U.S. team was on its back foot.
Berhalter said he wanted to see his team pushed in a choppy and very physical game. CONCACAF games are often ugly and there is a skill to winning ugly games. The Nations League and the Gold Cup should be more useful practice. The U.S. team had more skill across the board but Panama found a way to stay in this game for 80 minutes.
These games will be even harder to win in 2021. The U.S. team won’t have a huge number of subs – which turned this game from close game to a laugher. The fields won’t be as nice. Crowds will be extremely hostile. The U.S. team responded well but this was a real test for long time.
Yunus Musah, 17, lived up to the hype in these two games and Berhalter showed a lot of faith in him by giving him valuable minutes. The U.S. team needs a lot of work. The player pool is still very large and Berhalter needs to both sort through players and develop chemistry among the core players. After playing for England at the youth levels, Musah is obviously not completely committed to the U.S. team but Berhalter gave him a lot of minutes nonetheless.
It could mean that Berhalter believes that there is a good chance Musah decides to play for the United States. Otherwise, there was a better use of these minutes (for example, playing Musah in the middle forced Reyna out wide. If Musah wasn’t involved, Reyna could potentially play in the middle -where he starts for Dortmund). Berhalter gave Musah every opportunity to showcase himself in his favorite position and doing this moved other key players to other areas.
Musah clearly showed himself very well and he is a player U.S. Soccer hopes remains in the program. But Berhalter certainly treated Musah as if he was a player who already decided for the U.S. team, and that might be the most convincing case it can make for Musah.
Musah's numbers against Panama indicated he was active.
- 76 minutes
- 48 touches
- 0 shots
- 32/36 passing (89%)
- 6 duels won (4 lost)
- 4x fouled
- 1 foul
- 1 dribble (2 attempts)
One of the most interesting questions moving forward after this camp is the use of Sergino Dest. He is the best right back in the pool, and most would not argue with that. But Dest is also a good left back – although not nearly as good as he is on the right. Reggie Cannon is a good right back as well. Against Panama, Cannon had two assists.
The question becomes whether or not you move Dest to his second position because it avoids having a hole at left back while allowing for good right back option. On the other hand, should the system allow for the top players to play their best position in order to increase the chances of making an impact? That would require Antonee Robinson or someone else to raise their respective game at left back.
These decisions do not have to be made now. There will be Olympics, Nations League, the Gold Cup, friendlies, and even youth World Cups for other players to possibly emerge at left back. But it will be an interesting question in 2021.
Central defense struggles
Against Wales, both Matt Miazga and John Brooks were solid. Against Wales, Miazga and Tim Ream weren’t as sharp. Both of Panama’s goals were avoidable as blown assignments gave Fajardo a chance to move past the defense for wide open opportunities.
Brooks is clearly a starter on the U.S team but central defense depth will need to be evaluated closely in 2021.
Subs show depth
Panama tired at the end of the game and the U.S. substitutes took advantage. Richard Ledezma’s two assists, Sebastian Soto’s two goals, Sebastian Lletget’s goal were the most obvious beneficiaries. These players all seized their opportunities well.
For players like Soto, Ledezma, Cardoso, Llanez, and Richards to remain with the team, club form will grow in importance. But competition and opportunity will be exciting in 2021. If the U.S. qualifies for the Olympics and the U-20 World Cup, the United States could use up to 85 different players between Nations League, Gold Cup, the Olympics, and the U-20 World Cup.
Depth will be tested and all these players should be involved in some capacity in these tournaments. All made positive impressions during this camp. But other players are certainly going to have their chance to impress as well. The internal competitions should be enormously beneficial for Berhalter and the U.S. team.