The USA's streak of having won every Gold Cup opener -- 13 in all -- ended when it tied Panama, 1-1, in their opening game before a record Tennessee soccer crowd of 47,622 in Nashville.
More critically, the performance of many players simply wasn't good enough if they want to claim places on the national team for the next 12 months.
Often, the Gold Cup hosts have drawn
an easy game to open the tournament, but Panama is a formidable opponent, the USA's likely challenger for the third and final automatic berth from Concacaf in the 2018 World Cup.
Canaleros were a handful for a U.S. team that featured just three starters -- defenders Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi and Jorge Villafana -- from the
team that tied Panama, 1-1, in World Cup qualifying in March.
"Inexperience is an excuse," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, "but not a good excuse."
1. Dwyer and Rowe lone bright spots in
the U.S. front six.
Dom Dwyer and Kelyn Rowe, both earning their second caps, were the lone bright spots in a U.S. front six that struggled to put
consistent pressure on the Canaleros and lacked the coordination to contain them on the break.
Dwyer didn't get the chances he had a week earlier against Ghana but he was
perfectly placed to take Rowe's centering pass and fire the ball through the legs of defender Roberto Chen and off the far right post and into the goal in the 50th minute. Rowe created two good
chances for himself in the first half that were both pushed away by keeper Jose Calderon.
But Rowe was one of the many guilty parties on the sequence that led to Miguel
Camargo's tying goal 10 minutes after Dwyer's goal when he missed Edgar Barcenas with his tackle, allowing the Panamanian to find Gabriel Torres for a shot that was parried by
2. Midfield struggles under Panama's pressure.
The big disappointment was in midfield, where
Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty, who had both played well against Ghana, struggled, while Joe Corona and Alejandro Bedoya, both holdovers from the winning 2013 Gold Cup team,
had little impact on the game.
Acosta and McCarty were outmatched by Anibal Godoy and Gabriel Gomez, one a current MLS player and the other a former MLS player. Under
pressure from the Canaleros, the passing of Acosta and McCarty wasn't crisp and they were too frequently dispossessed.
"We didn't deal well with their pressure," said Arena, "especially
in the midfield. We turned the ball over way too much in midfield. We didn't do a good job of establishing a rhythm, getting our team more involved in the game. Defensively, we didn't do a good enough
job getting enough pressure on the ball dealing with some of their numbers in wide positions."
3. Arena has decisions to make for knockout
The USA has lost only one of 40 group matches in the Gold Cup -- 2-1 to Panama in 2011 in Tampa, where it heads to face Martinique on Wednesday. After that, it's
Nicaragua next Saturday in Cleveland, so there's little doubt the USA should reach the quarterfinals.
Arena will have 24 hours after the Nicaragua game to make up to six changes for the
knockout stage, bringing in players from his preliminary list of 40 players. He's doing a balancing job -- giving players international experience and trying to win the Gold Cup for a sixth time --
but they are not entirely exclusive goals.
Bringing in MLS players like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and DarlingtonNagbe --
all on breaks for the next week -- would help with the latter goal while ensuring a long run for their teammates who need more international experience.