U.S. defeat at Panama blows up many of the themes built up over last year

The USA is still (barely) in second place after its 1-0 loss to Panama, but the defeat in steamy Panama City blew up many of the themes that had been build up about the national team over the last year.

Possession game? With the exception of the dying minutes of the 4-1 win over Honduras -- when the fans in San Pedro Sula derisively shouted "Olé" at every U.S. touch -- and the second half against Jamaica on Thursday night, the USA has struggled to dictate the tempo of games.

But at least in the ties against both El Salvador and Canada, the USA had plenty of possession. It just didn't do anything with it.

Against Panama, the USA coughed up the ball time and again in midfield and was put under continuous pressure until Panama scored. After that, all the "Olés" coming from the crowd at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez were from the fans cheering on the Canaleros.

"We didn't have control in midfield, and that really hurt us in that game," said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. "I'm going to look at the touches that our midfielders had individually, but it was nowhere near what we expect. The distances were too big, the connections were too spread out."

He said everything needed to be better.

"We were poor," he said. "We were really poor with our passing and some of our movement.”

Verticality? Against Jamaica, both goals were scored by Ricardo Pepi came after the USA played its wide players in behind the backline. When the USA looked to play the ball down the wings against Panama, either there was no opening or passes went astray, preventing the USA from ever being a threat. Winger Tim Weah, who was so dangerous against Jamaica, hardly saw the ball and exited as part of a triple substitution in the 68th minute.

The USA was so slow in its movement and so unsteady on the ball that the Panama midfielders and wingers had an easy time of containing the U.S. outside game.

"It just felt like one of those days where we couldn't really get into a rhythm," said U.S. captain Walker Zimmerman.

Youth? Berhalter has spoken at length about the youth of the team, but that wasn't the problem against Panama. The lineup he picked was the oldest he has started in the five World Cup qualifiers -- only four starters on Sunday were age-eligible for this year's Olympics, as compared to nine against Jamaica -- and produced a performance that was the most unfocused and uninspired of the qualifying campaign.

To be sure, Yunus Musah was a shadow of the player he was against Jamaica on Thursday. He was pulled at halftime, but the problem was as much the veterans around him in midfield, Kellyn Acosta and Sebastian Lletget.

George Bello, the other teenage starter, looked nervous on the left side, but Shaq Moore and DeAndre Yedlin at right back were even poorer.

Give credit to Berhalter for at least laying out the danger of celebrating after the Jamaica game.

“The trap is going to be us thinking we’re great and us thinking we’ve qualified for the World Cup,” Berhalter said on Thursday night. “If we do that, we’ll get our asses kicked in Panama.”

Depth? Can the USA win without Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna? The USA did against Honduras. (Pulisic helped set up the equalizer, then exited shortly thereafter with an ankle injury.) Can the USA win without Pulisic, Reyna, Weston McKennie (who went directly to Columbus to rehab his quad injury) and Sergino Dest (who came off in the 78th minute against Jamaica and did not play against Panama)? The answer on Sunday was evident.

Berhalter described McKennie's performance against Jamaica as "professional" -- exactly what the USA needed against Panama. Dest has been inconsistent for the USA, but his ability to dribble into the opponent's half and maintain possession was sorely lacking against Panama.

All throughout qualifying -- Pulisic has started just two games and Reyna one -- the USA has lacked the service that the pair offered in the Concacaf Nations League final against Mexico. Panama had an edge of only 7-6 on corner kicks, but what Eric Davis offered for Panama and Acosta did not provide for the USA on dead-ball situations turned out to be the difference in the game.

Rotation? Berhalter made six changes in the starting lineup from the first game to the second game and five from the second game to the third game in the last window. He rotated seven players against Panama, and it backfired. Even he admitted afterwards it was risky.

“We know we’re playing in extreme heat, extreme humidity, and we know we traveled four and a half hours, and we know we have another game on Wednesday, and we wanted to rotate players,” he said of the changes. “If it didn’t work, then it’s on me, and it’s my responsibility.”

The biggest question was why not start Tyler Adams, whose presence in central midfield has been a stabilizing force through the first two windows. Berhalter said Adams, who entered the game to start the second half, was injured and in and out of the lineup at RB Leipzig in the three weeks between the September and October windows.

"So now to ask a player who hasn't had any load or much load in the last three weeks to go play three 90s, I wasn't comfortable with it," he said. "And I'll take responsibility for that."

Fightback? In the Concacaf Nations League final, the USA came back twice to beat Mexico. In the Gold Cup, it won all three knockout games with late goals, and even in the Honduras game, it rallied with four unanswered goals.

On Sunday, it never could match up with the intensity Panama offered, not that how the Canaleros played was a surprise.

“We weren't great in duels," said Berhalter. "Panama, we talked about being a very physical team, very difficult team to break down and that's exactly what they were. And you need quick ball movement, we need guys getting on the ball, moving them around — we just didn't do that enough."

Probably the most concerning aspect of the Panama game was that after the USA fell behind, there was no fightback. Just a half hour of mostly aimless balls played into the Panamanian end with nothing to show for it. In that regard, the performance was similar to the game against Canada, the only other game in which the USA has conceded a goal in the second half.

The lack of reaction to a tough situation was something you had not expected out of the USA.

36 comments about "U.S. defeat at Panama blows up many of the themes built up over last year".
  1. Tom Mara, October 11, 2021 at 7:01 a.m.

    I never thought Berhalter was the right choice to coach the USMNT and it appears he is proving me right.

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, October 11, 2021 at 9:54 a.m.

    Yup, Tomarraw.. With Ggg, It's Two StepsForward,  Followed by One Step Backward,  Followed by One Step Backward, Followed by 2 Steps Sideways,  Followed by a Circle Jerk... Zero Progess...SNAFU...Loss or Tie at Home, Will put us at We aFUBAR.!!!

  3. David Ruder, October 11, 2021 at 7:28 a.m.

    The question to me is, is Berhalter have the consistent optics to field a  combination of players available to play against the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team.  

  4. John Sabala replied, October 11, 2021 at 7:48 a.m.

    David, you make a great point as he just cannot see it.  Santi brought up the great point of not bringing in enough players.  Two off the bat that all help in those areas where we could not field our best players are Scally, and Green.  Another FB since GB insists on playing a back 4 and green give us another experience offensive midfielder.  Both could have went to Panama and I believe would have made a huge difference in the game.  Why did he not start Busio?  Prior CONCACAF experience does not really mean that much in the sense of play since our team played to the lower level of the opponent.  Why not bring in Hoppe?  Saving for the last game?  You win the game you are in and then plan for the next game after this one is over.  All this nonsense of rotating players is just an excuse to cover up inadequate coaching.

  5. John Sabala replied, October 11, 2021 at 7:49 a.m.

    Also look at my post about strenghts and weaknesses.  You hit the nail on the head.

  6. John Sabala, October 11, 2021 at 7:42 a.m.

    This has been the case from the outset of his tenure.  Anyone listening to his orignal plan for Tyler Adams for his "system" (if there is one to be seen) would have seen it right away.  A refresher, Adams was to play right FB and then transition to a holding midfielder in the attack.  Must have looked great on paper, but in actual play this does not work.

    Again the line ups, tactical plan (if there was one), and in game adjustments showed how much he is out of his depth.  We continually play to the lower level of our opponent despite having better quality players.  Now the majority of the line up was a JV team going against the main team of Panama. They only made two changes and have played their core group the entire windows. And the US likes to boast about out fitness level. This is not rocket science that you always put your best team on the pitch to get a result. Knowing that 3 points puts some breathing room going into the last match at home from a strategic standpoint it should have been treated as a must win.  Anyone following USMNT matches has shown we have not scored any goals in the first half over all matches including the summer.  This must be remedied.  Starting 11 that should have been playing the 4-3-3: 




    Should have played a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1 so we could actually press and would have been to our players' strenghts.



    Richards---McKenzie----M. Robinson

    Again....GB has no clue how to use his players to their strengths and dictate play to the opponent.  The outside centerbacks would have snuffed out the counterattacks when Panama switched the field and would have given us more presence in midfield.

  7. Terry Lynch, October 11, 2021 at 7:43 a.m.

    Agree.  Berhalter has a history of making bad lineup choices and that leads to most of his problems.  He was right though that the midfield was terrible and the root cause of the problems.  The backs recognized it and started playing the long balls over the top.  Game over.  He loves Acosta and that kid has never been capable of an effective role in midfield at this level.  Musah is young and needs support from solid guys like Adams and McKinney and never got it from Acosta and Lieget. So, no midfield, no possession.  I thought we settled a bit when Adams came in but by then we were chasing the game.

    Turner getting a 4 makes no sense.  He kept us in the game in the first half.  Should have been a 6.  Watch. Berhalter will start Steffen in Columbus despite no games.

  8. John Sabala replied, October 11, 2021 at 7:54 a.m.

      Terry, in all our WC qualifcation games we have lost the midfield battle with the exception of the Jamaica game.  Any coach with half a brain know if you don't control or at least compete for the midfield, the game will not go very well.  And yes, we were back to our old reliable bail out plan.....LLLLLLOOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG  BBBBBBBAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL to know one.  Just look at the possession numbers from the game.

  9. Santiago 1314 replied, October 11, 2021 at 11:08 a.m.

    Steffen did play (1) "Cup" game since Sept Window... He did Look Impressive, as Far as Looking like a GK... in there 6-1 EFL Cup game versus Wycombe... I think it is Time to give Him a Chance, Especially if we are going to play Possession Out Of The Back... Only Reason Turner Got "IN" was Freak Injury to Steffen...Turner might be Better at Shot Stopping, Steffen at Feet... To me Horvath was Best Combination... But he has only played 2 games since Nations League Final... Both Losses on a Losing Team

  10. Guy Walling, October 11, 2021 at 9:01 a.m.

    Two reasons why we will continue to have difficulty ever making it past the World Cup qualifiers. First and foremost, we need to STOP filling our domestic league (MLS) with foreign players!! This only makes other national Teams stronger. Keep our academy player home where they can actually get minutes every week! Secondly, get a National Team coach that actually can have some consistency in the line-up and start relying on the players that prove day in and day out that they can perform and perform together as a team. We look like a bunch of fumbling idiots and it's because no one is gelling and playing together! But most importantly, we need MLS support!!

  11. Ben Myers replied, October 11, 2021 at 10:53 a.m.

    Sadly, MLS has been criticized exactly this way since its inception, but the wealthy MLS owners want results in THEIR league and to hell with the national team.  So they continue hire players from other countries on the cheap or attract one-time stars who get easy money at the ends of their careers.  The owners get what they think is an exciting "product", showcasing American pro soccer mediocrity.  I cannot stand to watch MLS, it is so cheesy.

    The exception seems to be Dallas FC, the crucilble for young players to go overseas and get the right kind of experience. 

  12. John Sabala replied, October 11, 2021 at 3:17 p.m.

    Sorry...MLS will not be stronger than the clubs in Europe. Not in several lifetimes.  Most MLS players don't get looked at by foreign clubs because they are not anywhere good enough period.  You look at has been European players....Heck Wayne Rooney came in and in one season of MLS is the leading scorer....hmm....tell you something. Not good enough for any club in Europe, showed what an aging European soccer player can do in MLS.  The academies have produced some quality talent, and youth US soccer has done well too.  It is a few of the reasons there is so much young talent.  The smart guys are getting to Europe and improving their craft.  It will not be done in the MLS.  It is just the reality of the situation.  MLS teams can't even win the CONCACAF Cup for heavens sake.

  13. John Polis, October 11, 2021 at 9:02 a.m.

    Sunday's loss was about player selection pure and simple. When you are weak at both right and left back (Moore and Bello), sit yiur hottest goal scorer, plus various injuries, it's a bad mix. There was a need to make a few changes from the lineup against Jamaica, but seven? This is not the first time the US starting lineup appears questionable at best, befuddling at worst. He's got alto settle on a core group of best players and go with them. 

  14. Ben Myers replied, October 11, 2021 at 10:59 a.m.

    You comment omits one adjective in talking about Berhalter.  I am struggling to select what it is.  Stupid?  Clueless?  Brain-damaged?  What kind of thinking went into his selection of this mediocre lineup? I am sure the players all mean well and try their best.  But the Octagonal is all about getting results, not showcasing different lineups and experimenting with different mixes of players.  The time to experiment is during training and during friendlies with no true consequences.

  15. cheese Pony, October 11, 2021 at 9:04 a.m.

    Arriola's touch has been heavy the last 3 matches he's appeared - very uncharacteristic, and Lletget was surprisingly horrid - not willing to compete, watched the ball on the goal, wandered around on the pitch like he was a zombie - it was bizarre.  ALOT of players should have played their way OFF the WC roster last night.  People show you who they are - you just have to believe them.

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, October 11, 2021 at 1:10 p.m.

    I think Arriola and Zardes Timing at this Level both a "Little Bit" Off... Not Killing us, but will need to be Better to keep their place with all the Youngsters Coming Thru.

  17. Guy Walling, October 11, 2021 at 9:06 a.m.

    Sorry one more thing, we also need to revamp our college system! We have a lot of waisted talent that could be a great feeder system, if we can only extend the college season and stop living in the dark ages!

  18. R2 Dad replied, October 11, 2021 at 10:09 a.m.

    NCAA prefers the dark ages--most important issue is control of the colleges, though the recent football realignments prove it's all about money. And college soccer has none.

  19. Wooden Ships, October 11, 2021 at 10:05 a.m.

    I would like to thank the USMNT for ruining a perfectly fine Sunday evening meal. 

  20. Santiago 1314 replied, October 11, 2021 at 11:15 a.m.

    WOW Wooden, We FINALLY Agree on Something.!!!

  21. Brian Cameron, October 11, 2021 at 10:44 a.m.

    This is another fiasco in the making. Berhalter was a poor choice from the start, but Jay's executive role at USSF probably helped him get appointed. He hasn't won anything as a coach and doesn't have a coherent strategy. I knew from the lineup alone this was not going to end well. 

  22. humble 1, October 11, 2021 at 12:12 p.m.

    sheesh, going way way overboard, all points above correct, but, what you always get with young players, and you guys know this, is you get inconsistency.  This was a perfect example.  Credit Panama, they were ready, they excected their game plan, they gave zero respect and played tactically and technically to plan, and they played hard, then, they did a good job to slow the game down in the waning moments, players were hitting the deck every three minutes, this was a well coordinated and executed camelo as I've seen in a while.  U.S. had no answer.  We all love that we play the young teams, then you have to accept what always comes with that, inconsistency.  Next game will be telling.  Cheers!

  23. Ben Myers replied, October 11, 2021 at 12:32 p.m.

    Except!!!!  The team put out there by Berhalter had some elderly MLS veterans, Zardes who has never proved himself in international play, Arriola and LLetget.  The latter often plays acceptably when surrounded by a talented cast.  Young Bello of MLS squad Atlanta has not yet proven himself in international play.  Shaq Moore, playing abroad in the second Spanish division, has not yet shown the ability to play first division European soccer, so why was he on the field.  

    It was not youth that did in the US against Panama.  It was the lineup selected by throwing darts at a dartboard.

  24. Santiago 1314 replied, October 11, 2021 at 1:42 p.m.

    BULLSEYE Ben.!!! BS from Ggg

  25. Kent James replied, October 11, 2021 at 2:03 p.m.

    I missed the game (it didn't record!) so could only watch the highlights (such as they were), but I think people tend to read too much into one game.  Concacaf qualifying always has challenges.  Injuries to key players has certainly tested our depth.  GB, for better or for worse, has given lots of players a chance to be a real part of the team.  I think that given the number of qualifiers played in tight windows, as well as the number of good young players coming up, that's a good strategy in the long term.  But it requires playing lots of different line-ups and certainly there is a greater risk of inconsistency.  Playing a more experienced line-up for an away game in Central America is not crazy, and was probably intended to provide some consistency.  It clearly didn't work, but if there was a strategy that was guarenteed to win every game, no team would ever lose.  Let's hope we got this bad game out of our system and we do better in the next one.  

  26. Seth Vieux replied, October 11, 2021 at 3:29 p.m.

    As Ben has already stated, I actually think this was the oldest average age team GB has fielded in a looomg time. I certainly expected him to lean on some vets (didn't agree but expected), and my line up prediction was spot on across the midfield and front line (Zardes, Arriola, Lletget and Acosta I was certain he would start), but was 0 for 4 on his back line, where I expected Dest-Richards-M.Robinson-Yedlin (figured Yedlin would be nailed on for the same reason as the ones above). 

    I was most worried that he would go with Bello with A.Rob not available and Dest taking a knock against Jamaica, which is all the more reason my largest problem with this entire window was the exclusion of Scally, who is having the best individual season of ANY American. The boy has been very good, going 90 minutes every time Gladbach plays, and having played (WELL) at right ans left fullback AND wingback. How GB could trust a promising but still very raw Bello over Scally is just stunning.

    Hoppe should have got a run out there as a sub too.

  27. beautiful game, October 11, 2021 at 1:30 p.m.

    Lack of tactical purpose and execution are owned by the players and coaching staff. Bottom line, a terrible game plan and player selection by GB.  One can't expect much coaching improvement from a former NT defensive-minded player. Time is overdue for USSF to address these issues and ditch the good ole boy crutch between Stewart and GB.

  28. Ted Morehouse, October 11, 2021 at 2:06 p.m.

    I shuddered when I saw the line-up.  Then I thought  " maybe Panama isn't as good as I thought, and the US coaches know that."  With this lethargic loss, where we were never putting pressure on Panama, the nightmare of four years ago has returned.  Maybe we really don't have the talent we think we have. We can never assume Pusilic or Reyna will be healthy and play at peak form for us.  And one 18 year old who can score, just can't be enough.  All if a sudden, the Wednesday match vs Costa Rica is a must win situation.  And with our inability to do anything in the first half, the pressure to win could become debilitating if we are tied at the half. The positive, confident, enthusiasm for this team is now bringing flashbacks of failure.  Who feels confident this morning that the USMNT will qualify for the next World Cup? . 

  29. John Sabala replied, October 11, 2021 at 3:10 p.m.

      Ted, I am saying, "OH S#&*!!" as I had a PTSD moment back to T&T and stated this in another post.  Our coaches don't know what they are doing with preparing for these games. Look at all of the qualifiers.  GB is so out of his depth.  Canada, El Salvador and not Panama the coaches had no idea what to do with the opponents execution of their game plan and how to try and counter it.  Even CP and Reyna at partial form is better than what we saw in Panama.  We have to actually play by passing our all our Europe based players will get injured by CONCACAF opponents as that is how they win. Play bully soccer and make us play to their level.

  30. Seth Vieux replied, October 11, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.

    Yep, how many times I said aloud, "well this sure looks and feels like Couva."

  31. James Madison, October 11, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.

    Talk all you want about systems and formations, but it comes down to whether the players care, i.e., are they committed, and this bunch seems not to be.

  32. R2 Dad, October 11, 2021 at 2:43 p.m.

    I don't think the substitutions had any material affect on the match. When you're losing the battle in midfield, and you choose those 3 to start, it's always going to invite pressure. Musah couldn't do it all by himself, paired with a couple stiffs. Zero shots on frame. ZERO. Even if we got a 0-0 draw, there is no excuse for that. And the after-match interview was a joke. GB's a bit of a touchy snowflake, turns out. By playing for a draw he invited this pressure. Now there is a must-win at home with Costa Rica. CP probably went through a whole bottle of Tums yesterday.

  33. Kevin Leahy, October 11, 2021 at 4:47 p.m.

    Roster selection is a huge problem. The ones who weren't called in & the 11 selected for last nights match. It is incomprehensible to put crap on the field @ this level. The coaches judgement is terrible and this group was completely unprepared to play this match. This team is not doing well for 90 minutes against anyone! I don't know if this team will qualify but, if it does, the will not make a change in coaching. The staff continues to show that they aren't up to he task.

  34. Jorge Barrera, October 11, 2021 at 6:22 p.m.

    All of our comments and game analysis are very correct about the performance of the coach and payers; but the real problem is that GB has not yet decided who are the starting players in the national team. Until he decides that and plays them regularly so that they can become a team and really get to know each other, we will continue having these constant up-and-downs, and no matter what solutions we come up for to fix the play from the last game they will be meaningless because the team that will play next is not the same as the one who played the last one.
    Can anyone tell me who the undisputed starting 11 are in the US Men's National team, just like any ten-year-old in Mexico, South America, Africa, Europe an Asia can rattle off the starting team of their respective country?
    Unless GB forms a starting team and stops these constant tryouts we will not be able to field a team we can expect to play with a consistent style and results.

  35. Seth Vieux replied, October 11, 2021 at 8:35 p.m.

    This is also a very good point, in a rebuild I think it was important to have a broad try out when we knew there were going to be a lot of very young players breaking through at various paces across multiple leagues, but it should be at least 90% figured out by now. The window stayed open long enough for Pepi to begin to bloom, the only other guy that still needs a really honest look for the WC roster is Scally, who should have been starting on the left last night.

    But to answer your question, I think the only nailed on starting XI at this time is CP, Reyna, McKennie, Adams, Dest, and M. Robinson. That's not nearly enough at this point in the game. "Today" I'd say that Pepi, Musah, A. Robinson, Brooks, and Turner are very likely to be the rest of the XI, but Pepi and Musah must continue to show out and A. Robinson, Brooks and Turner still have a lot of time to lose their spots to Scally, Richards, and Steffen respectively.

  36. Ric Fonseca, October 12, 2021 at 7:41 p.m.

    A curious question taken from the old movie Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid:  Re the USMNT "coaching taff," just "Who are those guys?"  Game after game, there they are, looking soccer-shell shocked while the "master coach" paces up and down in his coaching area, and once in a rare while he consults one or two of them who are holding an i-pad or whatever.  Still, can anyone out there tell me/us just Who are those guys -and what are their bonafides?

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications