USMNT, beaten at its own game

For as badly as the USA played in its 1-0 loss to Panama Sunday in Panama City, it could have easily come out of the game with a point.

Panama didn't exactly lay siege to the U.S. goal, finishing with just eight shots and four shots on goal. The Canaleros' xG was 0.88, exactly the average of the USA's first four opponents in the Octagonal when it won twice and tied the other two games to claim the top spot.

The Canaleros won on a goal that was preventable. And the threat was predictable.

Midway through the first half, Panama had a pair of corner kicks, the first from the USA's left side and the second from its right.  U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner was forced to scramble and tip both corner kicks away to prevent possible Olimpico goals.

On the first corner kick, left back Eric Davis hit an in-swinging ball into the 6-yard box. Standing open at the near post was Anibal Godoy, who ran toward Davis as the ball was struck and curved as it reached the middle of the 6-yard box. On the second corner kick, Edgar Barcenas almost beat Turner with a ball headed to the far post.

The Panama goal came on its seventh corner of the game in the 54th minute. Once again from Turner's left and taken by the left-footed Davis. And once again, Godoy was open at the near post, standing between Sebastian Lletget and Gyasi Zardes  and the goal, only this time he did not move. Instead, he rose and got his head on Davis' ball to the near post, and his shot deflected off Zardes and bounced to the far back corner of the goal.

“They tried to overload the 6-yard box, put more numbers in closer to our goal, and tried to whip in a ball right on top of our goalie in the near zone," said U.S. captain Walker Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, who plays with Godoy at Nashville SC in MLS, said it was a zone the U.S. defense should control.

"It's something that we have to take pride in, how we defend set pieces," he added. "That should be a strength of this team, with our size, with our mentality. And that's a goal of ours, is to always be holding an advantage in the set-piece category, because we certainly have the personnel to do that – to defend and hold a zero and then certainly create more opportunities on the attack.”

Yes, the USA was beaten at its own game.

For years, it might have struggled to break down opponents in open play, but it could always count on dominating opponents on set pieces. As recently as the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup finals, the USA's prowess on set pieces was the difference in wins over Mexico.

In the Nations League final, both U.S. goals in regulation came on corner kicks served by Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna to Weston McKennie. On the first goal, McKennie's header hit the far post and rebounded to Reyna, who put it away from close range. On the second, McKennie's driven header bounced in front of Guillermo Ochoa and beat the Mexican keeper to his left. (Earlier in the second half, Ochoa denied McKennie on another header off a corner kick.)

Late in overtime of the Gold Cup final, the USA scored the game's only goal when Miles Robinson rose above the Mexico defense and headed Kellyn Acosta's curling free kick down and into the goal.

The problem is, the USA has done nothing on set pieces since then. All seven goals -- second behind only Mexico -- in the Octagonal have come from the run of play. The service on set pieces has been poor throughout the first five games of World Cup qualifying. The USA has taken 26 corner kicks and yet to score.

Part of the problem is that Pulisic and Reyna have been injured or unavailable for most of the Octagonal. No one else has consistently driven balls into the penalty area like Pulisic and Reyna did in Denver against Mexico and Davis did for Panama on Sunday.

Not that the USA lacked for opportunities against Panama. In the first 20 minutes alone, Acosta took four corner kicks and one free kick from a dangerous position on the side of penalty area.

In the 4th minute, Acosta found Zimmerman 10 yards out, but the Nashville SC defender was off balance and his shot headed over the bar was tipped away by Panama goalkeeper Luis Meija. The tone for Acosta's corner kicks was set on the second one when it popped high in the air to Zimmerman, who was standing about 15 yards from the goal and could do nothing with it.

And Acosta's free kick? It was blocked by the Panamanian defender standing in his way and never reached its target.

27 comments about "USMNT, beaten at its own game".
  1. Guy Walling, October 12, 2021 at 8:49 a.m.

    What kind of dumbass wouldn't start their own top goal scorer? Oh yes, a US coach who thinks they know what they're doing by the name of Gregg Berhalter! Come on and we're paying this idiot to sit Ricardo Pepi on the bench and what about Brandon Aaronson, our 2nd leading goal scorer? Maybe he was paid to loose the game. That is the only thing I can think of to explain his stupidity! 

  2. Donald Lee replied, October 12, 2021 at 1:12 p.m.

    You would start Pepi 5 games in 15 days.  That is not smart.  Your criticism is stupid and naive.

  3. Santiago 1314 replied, October 12, 2021 at 7:32 p.m.

    Donald, How Often could You Play, When you were EIGHTEEN.!?!?!?... if it Ain't Broke, DON'T FxxK IT UP.!!!!

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, October 16, 2021 at 9:57 p.m.

    Agree Santi. The biggest reason professional athletes retire is the longer recovery times. At the bitter end, they would spend the entire week recoverying instead of training.

  5. Guy Walling, October 12, 2021 at 9:03 a.m.

    If this were any other soccer nation, this idiot would be GONE! Why even support this guy and fill the stadium? It's like France not starting Mbappe or Benzema. Oh but wait...they have Martial, Dembele, Giroud and Griezmann. Who do we have...Zardes? Yeah, that's a great idea, I'll start Zardes he'll win the game for us. I mean...WTF!

  6. Donald Lee replied, October 12, 2021 at 1:13 p.m.

    You post like a Rocco Commisso paid stooge.

  7. Nick Gabris replied, October 12, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.

    Why is Zardes even on the field?? How many times does GB need to see what he can do? GZ is one of the most inconsistant players on the MNT. Chockes in front of the goal in national play.

  8. frank schoon, October 12, 2021 at 9:19 a.m.

    What is all the fuss about? As far as I'm concerned that is GOOD NEWS!!!! that we haven't relied upon corner kicks or dead ball plays to score. It is not that I don't want the US to score on dead balls but it represents ,I HOPE, a change in our soccer playing development strategy, to get away from relying on dead ball plays to win. But ofcourse that is not the case.

    That has been the strategy all along employed by the US national team. We don't play good soccer and we are usually the weaker team and therefore we play a defensive game which counts on counterattacking soccer and  hope we have also a chance to score on corner kicks or dead ball plays. THAT WAS OUR SOCCER STRATEGY. And this strategy is a basically for weaker teams who don't play good soccer and don't have much as far as good players. And you know sometimes a weaker team is successful and can win on this strategy.  But playing in this manner will NEVER IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF OUR GAME, for it is a stagnating type of development....It stagnates the player development,  and the game itself, look at England as a good example.

    I'm not inferring we have moved up in our quality of play because we have we haven't done nothing on set pieces since the Gold Cup and all seven goals have come from the run of play in the Octagonal. But let me put it this way, would you rather see the US score the 7goals on dead ball or run of play. I would pick the latter for this came about by playing SOCCER. Dead ball plays has NOTHING to do with soccer, if you know what I mean for that is not what you see out there for 90min.

    Yes we do need to work on dead ball plays for we have players, who are strong in the air and have body; and besides that's one of our strengths..

    The diminution of dead ball like corners could be because the opponents are stopping our flank attacks which is not good. So here we have to find a soccer solution ,technically and tactically, speaking, which has to do with player personnel on the flank and midfield distribution. Tactically that means the centerforward #9 should NOT run towards the wing when he has the ball for he brings another defender with him to clog things up. Remember, A.Robinson the left back running up the flank with Ariola posting himself there without moving out of Robinson's space...It is stuff like that hampers the attack. And technically we need a wing that can go to the endline and cross a ball, for we need our attack to get as close as possible to the endline in ordet to possibly create corners as well.

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  9. Samuel Gonzalez replied, October 12, 2021 at 12:23 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more!

  10. William White replied, October 12, 2021 at 12:36 p.m.

    Spot on.

  11. Guy Walling replied, October 12, 2021 at 9:25 p.m.

    Donald Lee please make sense! We all get it perhaps you should too! GB is a bone head!

  12. Ben Myers, October 12, 2021 at 9:20 a.m.

    Poorly taken corners at the international and professional levels of soccer are simply unacceptable.  It all starts with the person taking the corner and it requires sharp focus and precise technique.  If I can train high school players to execute corner kicks well, why can's somebody do it with USMNT, MLS or top European club players.  Once again this year, I spent an hour with players on a local high school team going over the mechanics and the need to focus.  The boys practice corners as part of their regular training.  The team has scored numerous goals from corners, sometimes two and three a game, not what you would expect from high school play.

  13. frank schoon replied, October 12, 2021 at 10:03 a.m.

    Ben, that's wonderful, GOOD JOB!!!  You know what, if a kid after all these can do that well, that he's learned something...Ronaldo would come to practice an hour before practice and stay an hour after practice working on kicking/passing.

    In my days ,there was a guy in Holland who was the kicking/passing coach at FC Den Hague named Rinus Loof. Coaches, players could tell if a player by sound or by the way he kicks the ball  he was trained by Rinus.... You know Cruyff could listen ,without looking, to the sound of how a player dribbles if he's doing it right. I can do that listening to the sound if the execution of the pass  was good. This I would do on the tennis courts rather than grass for the sound carries better.

    In Russia by Kiev, it was common to see a large to watch a coach do a practice session with passing. 2 lines of players 30+ meters apart with each player 3steps apart kick with the instep back and forth, kicking ball in a straight line not going into the other lane.... There is nothing more beautiful than player dropping a diagonal ball on the run 40meters to a player's feet on the run....

  14. frank schoon, October 12, 2021 at 9:51 a.m.

    Here is a good example of why our player development lacks significantly.  As Paul states that part of the problem, lack of scoring off corners, is that Reyna and Pulisic who can consistently drive a balls into the penalty have been injured... Do you know what this implies, and that is we don't have anyone in our player pool, on the national level, able to drive a ball where he wants it....BINGO!!!!!

    Now why is that, why have players who have been playing all these years from 8 years old on to  full adulthood still can't drive a decent ball....Is there a problem with the coaches ,trainers, coaching school, anybody, bus driver, maybe....WHY IS THERE IS LACK OF GOOD KICKING/PASSING soccer players. Now I'm not saying CP and Reyna are great at it for that's Paul's opinion, I have a different opinion ....but at least the point is made how bad we are lacking in the passing/kicking dept. so few good passers.  And this follows that so few good balls , the initial pass coming out of the backfield to the midfield are not good , but that's another discussion.

    Realize on corner, the front line comes back on defense, a la Zardes. You have to remember the corner kick came from our left side. That means it is more advantageous to the opponents who are rightfooted will head the ball with left side of their forehead with power. That is not case with leftfooted players. Zardes playing defense is right footed so for him to head the ball out requires using his right side of the forehead ,which places him in a very awkward position, jumping wise  and powerwise. Psycholigically, Zardes  feels awkward having to head the ball out instead of in to the goal. Everything is different, forwards are not defenders thereby lacking the spirit of fight a defender has.... So when a coach tells his tall attacker to come back and cover a tall attacker, there is more at play here other than for the attacker, to think " OK ,I'll cover him". So often I see opponents score on a headball on corners with his direct opponent being an attacker....

    Furthermore if the opponent has a corner kick coming from your left side, make sure your defender  standing next to the far post in this situation is leftfooted NOT right footed. It is so awkward for a rightfooted to immediately react with his leftfoot...nothing good will come from that....

  15. Bobby Bribiesca, October 12, 2021 at 12:10 p.m.

    The lesson here for coaches is we always play our first team no matter who are oppenent is.  If you are playing a team who is 0-10, you still start your best players.  When you get ahead, than you can rest your starters.  Many times when a team is competing aganist a losing team, the playing level seems to drop and we play down to their level.  A time who is 0-10 has a stronger will to compete.  Panama demonstrated that the will to win is better than the skill to win.  

  16. Donald Lee replied, October 12, 2021 at 1:27 p.m.

    This is not the hex of previous cycles with 2 games in 10 days.  This is 2021 with 3 game windows.  3 games in 10 days.  You cannnot play your first team in all those games.  

  17. Santiago 1314 replied, October 12, 2021 at 9:02 p.m.

    Neither Can THEY.!!!... As Hugo Perez said: "USA is 3 Teams Deep"... But Play the BEST until they Can't Do anymore... I would play our 2nd Team against "THEIR" 2nd Team... And for Sure, OUR 3rd Team is Better than anyone but maybe Mexico.!!!

  18. Henry Amon, October 12, 2021 at 12:44 p.m.

    All the GGG apologists think that our standing at 2nd is all that matters. They don't care or realize this is going to result in a 0-3 pool play if we make it to WC.

  19. Donald Lee replied, October 12, 2021 at 1:25 p.m.

    Oh Bullcrap.  You don't know that at all.  You know, I would have done something different than GGG only because of his age and experience level.  I would have gone with Vermes or Kinnear or many other older ex-nats in the coaching ranks with more experience.  But now that GGG is our coach I'm not going to be stupid and attack him incessantly and stupidly.  I will also be reasonable in my expectations.  He has a very young team that will be inconsistent.  He will make mistakes as well.  LIke any coach would.   Grow up and get smart. 

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, October 12, 2021 at 2:36 p.m.

    Donald, you are avoiding the point that GB makes really bonehead coaching decisions--like using the last of 5 subs in the 68th minute. In his second year in charge of the MNT he is still making bonehead mistakes. He doesn't improve. Is that okay with you? Nobody has to invent good reasons to complain about GB's coaching.

  21. David Borts, October 12, 2021 at 1:49 p.m.

    The major coaching issue is simple. The Hex is not the time or place to learn to coach at a high level. Forget all of the other criticisms. Those who made such a choice need to face the responsibility of such a choice and model the future or a change based upon this simple reality

  22. Bob Ashpole, October 12, 2021 at 2:26 p.m.

    Busio hits consistently good dead balls. In fact he hits consistently good moving balls under pressure too.

    How little we value our good technical and tactical players. They simply don't fit our kick-and-run and hope-for-a-set-piece "system" of anti-soccer.

  23. Ric Fonseca, October 12, 2021 at 7:20 p.m.

    I actually agonized watching the USMNT against los Canaleros.  Really now, though I tuned in a bit late - about 15 mins into 1st half - I immediately looked for Pepi and W.McK, but couldn't locate them on the field simply and 'cause the coach opted to sit him - read this "rest" him.  BUT.... as the game progressed into the 2nd half, still no Pepi or WMcK, and yet Aaronson was being carefully guarded by one or two Canaleros.  It was, to say the least, very but very disconcerning to see about 1/3 od the team that had won a couple of days ago on the bench, so discincerning that I switched channels  to watch the Mexican game, putting mildly, I just couldn't and still can't believe that the US Coach did not start his most strongest team.
    Sadly this is a negative on the US Coaching cadre, no mater who is the HC, they seem to always minimize a Latino team, whether Honduras, ES, and this time Panama.  They simply don't seem to respect them for wanting to beat the crap outta the US team, even if it means a red card or just out and out taking out our best players by brute physical play!  So come on now, GB perhaps felt that the Canaleros would simply roll over enabling him to "rest" his most recent goal scorers; as a Mexican immigrant having whetted and sharpened by coaching skills, as a college and club coach I always cautioned my players not to get a big head or carry a chip on their shoulders, especially when we had to play a very strong team or one holding up the rear in the standings.  At UCLA I vividly remember opposing teams wanting to beat the crap out of us on the pitch as everyone wants/ed to beat the crap outta UCLA.  Many of the above posts hit the nail on the head, however, GB needs to be more damand in getting the team to respond and play tough keeing in mind that every opponent wants to beat the US MNT, even if it means with a little help from a US player....  So cn we say PLAY ON, now really, PLAY ON!!!

  24. James Madison, October 13, 2021 at 12:29 a.m.

    It is astonishing to me that a player exists who claims to be a professional cannot be relied upon kick a still ball 35-40 yards in the air with accuracy.

  25. frank schoon replied, October 13, 2021 at 8:20 a.m.

    BINGO!!! James, I'm not astonished,  I've been expressing my dissatisfaction with how our players are developed for years.....

  26. Philip Carragher, October 13, 2021 at 11:06 a.m.

    And shouldn't a pro be able to do that with both feet?

  27. frank schoon replied, October 13, 2021 at 11:24 a.m.

    Philip, GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!! :)    You're asking too much of  those who operate our player development programs!!!!

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