USA-Panama: Americans not expecting another 6-0 win

The USA men’s team has never lost in Panama City and buoyed by a 6-0 stomping of Honduras would seem primed to post a fourth straight win Tuesday in the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

The teams play their fourth Hexagonal match on the heels of drastically different outcomes on Friday night. Panama lost its first Hex game to Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain, 1-0, and as for the Americans, life is good once again.

A pulverizing performance fueled by Clint Dempsey’s second U.S. hat trick and a superb game (one goal, two assists, dozens of sweet touches) by Christian Pulisic has certainly reversed the grim mood of nightmarish November losses to Mexico at home (1-2) and in Costa Rica (0-4). In his first U.S. game since being sidelined by an irregular heartbeat in August, Dempsey played the full 90 minutes and scored his first goal while grappling with Henry Figueroa, who dragged Dempsey to the ground but couldn't stop him from blasting a shot high into the net.

"He's like: 'How many minutes do you think you can give me?'" Dempsey said of his conversation with head coach Bruce Arena. "I said, 'I'll give you all the minutes I can.'"

Yet the badly needed three points are just that. Even if the Americans sweep their three remaining home games, they would have 12 points, which probably won’t be enough to grab a spot in the top three and qualify for Russia directly. Road points are vital and by knocking off Panama after losing its first two games, T&T served up a sober reminder that in the Hex, no away venue is a cozy one regardless of past records.

“The away games are always tougher than the home games, especially with the conditions,” said midfielder Jermaine Jones, who sat out Friday with a suspension but is a likely starter Tuesday night. “It will be hot, the field maybe will be a little bit bumpy. But if we go out and make our own game, and play our game -- we showed it last time in 2013 -- we can come here and win the game.”

They won that game, 3-2, by stunning Panama with stoppage-time goals from Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson. The Americans had already qualified and the Canaleros were within minutes of a first World Cup appearance at the expense of Mexico when their world caved in. 
Four years later, the nations are separated by one point in the standings. Panama is third with four points and the USA, though tied with Honduras and T&T in points with three, holds a slight edge in goal difference, the first tie-breaker.

Despite its failure to beat the U.S. at home in any of their four meetings, Panama thumped the U.S., 2-1, in the 2011 Gold Cup during group play, and toppled the Americans again in the 2015 Gold Cup third-place game, 3-2, on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game down in Panama and we’re not expecting to win, 6-0 like we did tonight,” said defender Geoff Cameron on Friday, “but we know it’s wide-open with the results that happened tonight. We know if we take care of business down in Panama we climb up the table and get back to where we belong.”

Four U.S. players left the squad after the Honduras game but only one, Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola, has been called in. He got the call Saturday morning, drove from his home north of the border in Chula Vista down to Tijuana to pick up his soccer gear, and flew to San Jose in time to take the team charter to Panama City Saturday night.

An injury to Sebastian Lletget in the Honduras game opened up a space on the roster for Arriola, who is not likely to start but gives head coach Bruce Arena another option on the right side of midfield, where Alejandro Bedoya performed well in relief of Lletget.

Arriola scored twice in his three appearances for the U.S. last year and one of his goals came as a sub for Bedoya, so he can harbor realistic hopes of getting on the field and riding the momentum of a rousing victory.

“I wouldn’t say relaxed,” he said of the mood he encountered upon joining up. “I would say a little more at ease, right, but still understanding that the next game is extremely important. We don’t want to walk out of here without any points. The goal is to come here and get a win. But in Concacaf, it’s hard to go away from home and get a result in hostile environments like these.”

Recent success in Panama City notwithstanding, the Americans will prepare for a tense, tight encounter such as their visit for a semifinal-round qualifier in October 2004, when only a very late, possibly offside goal by Cobi Jones salvaged a 1-1 tie.

And how’s this for eerie. A month later, they hosted Panama at RFK Stadium and won convincingly. The score? 6-0. And was there a hat trick? Yes, by Eddie Johnson.

So the message circulating amongst Arena and the players is basically, as fun as Friday was, Tuesday is another test.

When asked if the performance and scoreline surprised him, Jones replied, “No. This is what I said already before the game: that when everybody’s really focused and on the same page, that we have a good team, we have good quality. But you have to show it every time, not only once.”
6 comments about "USA-Panama: Americans not expecting another 6-0 win".
  1. Quarterback TD, March 27, 2017 at 9:11 a.m.

    Panama soccer has come a long way since Bush destroyed the country going after Noriega. The one thing they can do well is run and neutralize opponents but if US continues to play as a team we will get the W..

  2. Wooden Ships replied, March 27, 2017 at 10:28 p.m.

    TD, not that many will read this but a little rebuttal to your evil US premise. Since the ouster of Noriega, Panama has had the greatest economic growth of all the America's and has the most modern city in the hemisphere. There is a much higher standard of accountability toward elected officials and genuine sense of individual empowerment. The PDF (Panamanian Defense Force) is at an all time high in morale and operational effectiveness. The canal revenue and economic policies have greatly increased their day to day life and the future is very good.

  3. Quarterback TD replied, March 28, 2017 at 8:05 a.m.

    Ships, you are talking to the wrong guy in that dumb tone.. I know first hand what wars does to countries and I will gladly go to war for this country again if I have to.. like every country e.g. Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and Japan after a conflict they usually go through a time of austurity and then back to wealth and greatness.. Read up or talk to some people from Panama and they will let you know or just simply read before and after the Panamanian conflict.. and yes Panama is doing well I agree with you in that piece--

  4. Wooden Ships replied, March 28, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    TD, strange that you would say dumb tone. You sound like a fellow vet. Me, 25 years and I was with the 7th ID. I've had numerous teammates from Panama during my soccer playing days. I guess my reaction to your Bush comment had more to do with it being unnecessary in the context of the article. War is upsetting, culturally and personally. I wish you the best and the boys tonight, as we are playing a side that will be highly motivated. A side question, why do you use an eggball referenced moniker, in a soccer-Futbol forum?

  5. Chance Hall, March 27, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    What a fun game to watch. Great passing, foot skills, technique, heads up game for the US men. But the most important thing that I saw was the hustle by all the players. And the determination to win the ball back immediately when they lost it. I haven't seen that kind of hustle in years. Although I don't like to use the word "style" if we had one I think we played as a team and like American Outlaws. I know it's only one game, and way too early --- but look out world, the US men could be back!!!

  6. Nick Daverese, March 31, 2017 at 8:50 a.m.

    As in the mouse that roared every poor country wants to go to war with us to get our aid package after it ends :)

    Good for our football as well why do you think we have so many German American players. Hopefully down the road we can add Iraqi American to our list of players. I thought we would have Vietnamese Americans by now.

    Maybe in the future we will have both Korean and Itianian Americans to our list of players.. the future belongs to us. :)

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