[USA-PANAMA] Suddenly, the USA finds daylight in the Hexagonal with Brazil 2014 in sight. The 2-0 win over Panama before 40,867 fans Tuesday night in Seattle was the USA's most comprehensive performance of the Hexagonal and gave it a two-point lead in first place at the halfway point of the final round of World Cup qualifying. More important, the cushion on fourth-place Honduras -- remember the top three Hexagonal teams are assured of qualification -- is three points with a chance to make it six points when the USA hosts the Catrachos next Tuesday in Utah.
A NEW JOZY.After going 18 months on the national team without a goal, Jozy Altidore has now scored three goals in his last three games and is -- hands down -- the most feared striker in Concacaf at the moment.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he understands what Altidore was going through when he wasn't scoring for the national team.
"I played my entire career his position," he says. "I was a forward for 18 years with big clubs. I know what is going through his mind. I know when he's struggling. What we demand from him when he's struggling is to remind him he has to find his way and do his job for the team. And he has been doing it."
Klinsmann singled out his performance in the games against Costa Rica and Mexico in March -- when Altidore had nothing to show for his efforts -- as well as in the qualifying wins over Jamaica and Panama when he opened the scoring.
Klinsmann says he had a talk with Earnie Stewart, technical director at Altidore's Dutch club, AZ, during U.S. Soccer's centennial celebrations before the USA-Germany game and they shared notes about Altidore's growth. Klinsmann said it's easy to forget Altidore is still young -- only 23 -- and still learning how to use his body.
"He's such a physical presence," says Klinsmann, "and he sometimes doesn't use it. He's just now starting to use it to shield the ball and do a lot of work for us."
CAMERON CAMEO IN MIDFIELD.Klinsmann has stressed being two deep at each position, and he's been getting strong performances out of players playing out of position. Against Panama, he started two outside backs, Brad Evans and DaMarcus Beasley, who are normally midfielders, the right wing, Eddie Johnson, usually plays forward, and the left wing, Fabian Johnson, has until recently played most of his career in Germany and for the USA at left back.
Then there'sGeoff Cameron, who started his first game for the USA in midfield. After he struggled at right back against Belgium, Cameron -- himself a fill-in for Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler -- lost his starting job to Brad Evans, but jumped back into the team when Jermaine Jones suffered a concussion in the second half of the Jamaica game.
Klinsmann said he asked Cameron to keep it simple in midfield, sitting in front of the center backs, covering for Michael Bradley and playing balls to Bradley and Clint Dempsey in front of him.
A ball from Cameron to Bradley started the sequence that ended when Fabian Johnson found Altidore all alone to score the first goal. And he showed a remarkable touch with a perfectly flighted ball over the top of the Panamanian defense to Eddie Johnson, who put the game away with a clinical finish.
"We got a huge performance from Geoff," said Klinsmann.
DISAPPOINTING CANALEROS.Panama has a recent history of giving the USA fits and came into the game unbeaten in the Hexagonal, coming off a 0-0 tie with Mexico in Panama City. But the Canaleros never seemed to trouble the USA, until the last 10 minutes when the host was pressing for a third goal.
Panama's frustrations were encapsulated midway through the first half when speedy left back Carlos Rodriguez, who had been giving Evans some trouble down, raced toward the endline only to trip on the grass installed for the game over the turf at Century Link Field and tumbled to the ground.
The loss leaves the Canaleros in danger of falling off the pace if they lose next Tuesday at Costa Rica.
SIX-POINT GAME ON TAP. The USA's three-point lead on fourth-place Honduras is the narrowest cushion it has had at the halfway point in the battle for the top three spots in the Hexagonal over the last four cycles. It led fourth-place Mexico by four points four years ago and had eight-point cushions in 2001 and 2005.
But the USA would pull away from the pack with a win over Honduras in Utah. It would open up a five-point lead over Mexico, which has already played its six games -- one win and five ties -- and is headed off to the Confederations Cup in Brazil.
More important, a U.S. win at Rio Tinto Stadium would open up a six-point lead on the Catrachos. Unless Panama upsets Costa Rica, that would mean the USA has five- and six-point leads over the third- and fourth-place teams with four games to play.
YELLOW CARD UPDATE.For a guy who had a root canal 24 hours earlier, DaMarcus Beasley had quite a game. He almost capped the evening when he charged through to take a ball from Altidore and smashed it off the post. The only down point of the evening was the yellow card Beasley received in stoppage time means he'll miss next week's game against Costa Rica.
Beasley's absence against Honduras won't be missed as much as it would have been against Panama. Fabian Johnson can slide back into left, Eddie Johnson can move from the right side to left, and Graham Zusican return to right midfield.
Beasley is the second U.S. player to pick up his second card in five Hexagonal matches -- and just the third in this qualifying cycle.
June 11 in Seattle
USA 2 Panama 0. Goal: Altidore 36, E.Johnson 53.
USA --Howard; Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley; Cameron, Bradley; E. Johnson (Corona 87), Dempsey, F. Johnson (Davis 87); Altidore (Holden 90+).
Panama --Penedo, Parris, R.Torres, Baloy, Rodriguez, Cooper (Barahona 61), A.Henriquez, Sanchez, Godoy (Blackburn 61), Quintero, Tejada.
Tuesday, June 11
USA 2 Panama 0
Mexico 0 Costa Rica 0
Honduras 2 Jamaica 0
PTS TEAM W-T-L +/-
10 USA 3-1-1 6/3
8 Costa Rica 2-2-1 6/4
8 Mexico 1-5-0 3/2
7 Honduras 2-1-2 6/6
6 Panama 1-3-1 5/5
2 Jamaica 0-2-4 2/8
Tuesday, June 18
USA vs. Honduras
Costa Rica vs. Panama