By Ridge Mahoney
The USA controlled most of the play in beating Panama, 1-0, Sunday on a Brek Shea goal to win the 2013 Gold Cup final in Chicago, and the spine of its team deserves much of the credit.
Solid performances throughout the lineup meant a quiet afternoon for keeper Nick Rimando. Centerbacks Matt Besler and Clarence Goodson throttled the Panamanian attackers, and central mids Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud functioned smoothly individually and in tandem.
Brek Shea scored right off the bench for the second time in this tournament, poking home an Alejandro Bedoya cross that Landon Donovan missed just 42 seconds after his entry.
RATING PLAYER (CLUB) GP/G
5 Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) 12/0. He was rarely tested with either shots or crosses, thanks to resolute work by the field players. Cleaned up the few balls that came his way and gave the crowd a thrill by nailing a pass from near his own goal line right to a teammate about 40 yards away.
6 Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/GER) 17/0. Containing Alberto Quintero is no easy task, and though the Panamanian winger did threaten on occasions, Parkhurst’s work rate and defensive savvy played a major role in shutting down Panama’s attack. He overlapped more frequently in the second half and on the U.S. goal provided time and space for Alejandro Bedoya by looping outside him.
7 Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes) 41/5. Blotted out just about everything the Panamanians launched into the goalmouth with a dominant aerial performance that all but neutralized Blas Perez. He ran down a couple of balls over the top comfortably. Goodson came up complaining to the referee about a jersey grab after he’d glanced a U.S. free kick wide. On the ball he launched a couple of great crossfield passes to the opposite wing.
7 Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) 14/0. He gave the Panamanians something to think about when he neatly evaded a tackle in his defensive third just seconds into the game. A ball down the flank to Marcos Sanchez caught him upfield -- maybe a blown offside trap? -- but that was his only shaky moment. He stepped into tackles confidently, trapped a partial clearance to hit a shot that was blocked, and hit a few nice balls up the channel for Corona and Johnson to work with.
6 DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/MEX) 109/17. His energy and work rate quelled most of what Panama sent down his side, though a rare Panamanian chance resulted early in the game when Sanchez stripped him of the ball to hit a cross that Besler cleared spectacularly. Sanchez also easily knocked him over on a dribble in the Panamanian half, but for the most part his runs forward were well-timed and his passing more than adequate.
7 Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) 31/1. Stayed a step ahead of the Panamanians throughout the match, reading their passes shrewdly to intercept and playing a variety of first-time balls that kept them chasing. Without serving up a killer assist or stinging the keeper’s gloves, as he’d done previously in this competition, he set a midfield tempo that enabled the U.S. to dominate possession.
NR Stuart Holden (Bolton/ENG) 23/3. Can be forgiven for skying his shot from outside the box yet badly overhit two balls for teammates moving into good positions. Tweaked his right knee while trying to avoid Alberto Quintero and had to come off midway through the first half.
6 Alejandro Bedoya (Helsingborg/SWE) 19/1. Deployed on the right side of midfield, he twice cut inside to shoot with his left foot unsuccessfully before serving a ball that eluded several opponents as well as Donovan before Brek Shea poked it in. He gave good effort defensively, helping with double-teams and running hard to close down the flank.
5 Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/MEX). Switched to the left side of midfield, Corona provided a few threatening moments but wasn’t incisive enough. He rarely found enough space to deliver an effective cross and he needed some time recover when he and Leonel Parris banged heads dueling for a high ball. At times Sanchez got the best of him to deliver balls into dangerous areas.
6 Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy) 151/56. Fired a near-post header wide from a Beasley cross, whiffed on a sitter that fortunately Shea tucked away, and couldn’t find a shooting angle when Shea slipped a ball to him near the penalty area. He served up good free kicks that Goodson, tangled up with an opponent, and Bedoya glanced wide of the post. He was called for a foul on Quintero that probably wasn’t and nearly connected on a one-two with Johnson that was cut out. As is his wont, he caused the opponent more problems than anyone else.
5 Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders) 56/17. In an interesting tactical move, Johnson roamed very wide at times to add muscle to both flanks. He didn’t break through often but the extra man forced Panama to overshift and disrupted its shape. Johnson also checked back a lot from central positions, though he usually kept the ball moving with a return pass rather than turn and run at his marker. He squandered a great chance to ice the game by firing Shea’s bouncing cross over the bar.
7 Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/NOR) 10/2. Upped his stock again with a determined, assertive display when forced into the match for Holden. Took the ball at goal to earn a free kick a few yards outside the penalty area, and drove a ball wide for Beasley to cross and Donovan to head wide. He cleverly killed a potential Panamanian counter by fouling Gabriel Torres in midfield. His reads need to be sharper but he covers a lot of ground.
6 Brek Shea (Stoke City/ENG) 23/2. Owes Bedoya a sitter after nudging his goal-bound strike into the net from a foot out, and he delivered a raking cross that Johnson somehow blazed over the bar from point-blank range.
NR Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles) 12/0. A few token minutes probably won’t make Galaxy coach Bruce Arena feel any better about losing him for a week; he won a ball in the air as the clock wound down.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5=average; 10=high.)