By Ridge Mahoney
In its 2-0 win over Panama on Tuesday, its most convincing effort in the Hexagonal so far, the USA got stellar performances on the backline, in midfield and upfront.
RATING PLAYER (TEAM) GP/G
6 TIM HOWARD (Everton/ENG) 89/0. He didn’t have much to do until Rolando Blackburn broke through in stoppage time, and Howard repelled that attempt with a perfectly timed sliding block. He labored to reach one cross and punched it down but it bounced well clear of the penalty area. Other crosses he handled easily and none of Panama’s set plays caused much concern.
5 BRAD EVANS (Seattle Sounders FC) 11/1. Alberto Quintero exposed him a couple of times early in the match and occasionally thereafter he came up short when substitute Nelson Barahona floated into his area, but usually he and his teammates blotted out the danger. Whether because of the bumpy surface or fatigue – he played the full 90 minutes for the third time in 10 days – his play wasn’t always crisp but his diligent effort got him through the game.
8 MATT BESLER (Sporting Kansas City) 10/0. In addition to solid tackling and heady interventions, he delivered numerous quality balls up the left channel for several different teammates to collect. His shorter passes out of the back to the midfielders were consistently sharp. He helped keep Luis Tejada relatively quiet by beating him to the ball and rendered Anibal Godoy, who was substituted near the hour mark, invisible.
6 OMAR GONZALEZ (Los Angeles Galaxy) 6/0. Panama’s best chance in the final minutes arose when Blackburn snuck into his blind spot and he occasionally mis-timed his step to the ball, but there were plenty of strong tackles, especially one in the 36th minute at the edge of the box. He took up good positions at the near post and turned away several low crosses, and once defused a cross by heading it off an opponent and out for a goal kick.
7 DaMARCUS BEASLEY (Puebla/MEX) 103/17. The Beas had a few shaky moments when the Panama subs attacked his zone, but for the most part his positioning and decision-making were spot-on. He got forward effectively: in the opening minutes he hit a good cross, late in the first half he played a ball to Jozy Altidore that created a chance, and the final minutes he raced into the penalty area to smack a shot off the goalpost.
8 GEOFF CAMERON (Stoke City/ENG). 17/0. Deputizing for the concussed Jermaine Jones, he brought his own blend of toughness and savvy to the central midfield slot he used to play (in college and early in his pro career for Houston Dynamo). With a solid tackle, he won a ball and slipped it to Michael Bradley to set in motion the first U.S. scoring sequence. He lofted a great ball into space for Eddie Johnson to knock home the clincher. His few giveaways weren’t costly.
8 MICHAEL BRADLEY (Roma/ITA) 78/11. He probably shaded a few teammates as Man of the Match. His storming run through midfield and ball to Fabian Johnson on the first goal smacked of top-class yet throughout the match his presence predominated. He started the game by dropping deep to collect the ball near the U.S. center backs, which unhinged the Panama midfield and made space for the wide mids and Clint Dempsey, who inadvertently blocked his goal-bound shot. He moved front to back and side to side to feed the attack, and his workrate and tackling neutralized Panama’s central mids.
6 EDDIE JOHNSON (Seattle Sounders FC) 52/14. In place of Graham Zusi, Johnson played a very different yet effective game at right mid after a so-so start. Defensively he seemed a bit lost, and he botched a couple of early crosses, including a real howler in the 34th minute. He settled down when the U.S. scored a few minutes later. He started the second half by hitting good passes, and then timed his run perfectly to collect Cameron’s long ball and belt a shot inside the far post.
8 FABIAN JOHNSON (Hoffenheim/GER) 14/0. He started confidently knifing into the penalty area to fire a shot over the bar, and a few minutes later took another shot that was blocked. Panama simply couldn’t contain his linking balls to teammates and intelligent runs. He broke down the wing to meet Bradley’s pass and serve a perfect back-post ball that Altidore tucked home for the first goal. He also put in a lot of valuable defensive work in conjunction with Beasley and his central midfield partners.
7 CLINT DEMPSEY (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG) 98/35. His near-post run that drew defenders as Johnson crossed to Jozy Altidore to score was seen by all but did you notice his run through midfield that opened up a lane for Bradley? He floated from side to side to work combinations on the flanks, or sometimes stayed high as Altidore went wide. He nearly scored on the rebound of saved shot but instead his first-time shot off a bounce hit the crossbar. Recognized by Panama as the danger man, he absorbed several cynical fouls and kept on ticking while reminding the referee of proceedings.
7 JOZY ALTIDORE (AZ/NED) 59/16. Shortly after being denied a penalty kick when he surged between two opponents, Altidore angled to the back post and put away Fabian Johnson’s impeccable cross. His relentless and consistent work on and off the ball wore away at the Panamanian defense. He forced a good save out of keeper Jaime Penedo and a saving tackle by centerback Roman Torres, and clipped a nice ball that Dempsey would have headed home if not for another desperation clearance.
NR BRAD DAVIS (Houston Dynamo) 10/0. Got a few minutes but little the ball in relief of Fabian Johnson.
NR JOE CORONA (Club Tijuana/MEX)) 4/0. Made his first appearance of the year.
NR STUART HOLDEN (Bolton/ENG) 18/2. Another milestone in his long road back.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5=average; 10=high.)