A slow start from a mostly veteran bunch that should have known better doomed the USA to look forward to a do or die third match of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup upcoming Tuesday versus Guadeloupe in Kansas City. At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa last night the Americans, knowing that 3 points would secure a spot in the knockout stage and allow manager Bob Bradley to rest players in the third group match, came out of the gates flat and allowed Panama to march to a 2-0 half time lead.
Panama’s first goal, a Luis Tejada tap in following communication problems between center backs Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson, came just 19 minutes in and added yet another example to the ‘˜US starts games slow under Bradley’ movement that caught fire after the chronic habit reared its noggin at last year’s World Cup where particularly slow starts against Algeria, England, and Ghana hampered their ability to make a romantic run a la the 2009 Confederations Cup tournament.
The second goal came on a penalty where Ream’s botched clearing attempt inside his own box saw his foot miss the ball and catch Panama’s Blas Perez instead, setting up a penalty kick conversion by Gabriel Gomez.
“I went to clear it and as I was swinging I was already committed and (Blas Perez) gave me a little nudge,” said Ream. “It was on my right side and as I was swinging through I caught him.”
Veteran defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, the left and right backs respectively could only watch in vain as relative newcomers Ream and Goodson contributed to squandering both goals.
The situation up front was not much better in the first half with the quartet of forwards Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo with midfielders Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan failing to find a passing rhythm to set up multiple quality chances.
Deeper set midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones found themselves tangled in the Panamanian defensive nets, with Jones repeatedly on the ground screaming for a foul while an upright Bradley found it difficult to find advanced targets to jump start the attack. The insertion of bubbly substitutes Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan coupled with Goodson’s 68th minute headed goal upped the USA’s energy in the second half leading to many more chances than the first period but in the end the chase could not produce a fruitful comeback.
“Sometimes you just come out flat for whatever reason. At this level, and against a good team, you can’t do that,” U.S. veteran forward Donovan said. “Some nights you come out flat and you don’t get punished, but other nights you do. We learned a valuable lesson.”
You would think that veterans in Donovan’s category would have learned these lessons long ago but it seems the necessary infusion of new players may take the current unit a tournament or two together to reach the level needed for consistent performances featuring airtight defense and a real midfield to forward connection to create the amount of chances that would generate the much needed goals.