The glass most certainly felt half empty for the United States Men’s National Team on Saturday. A lackluster performance ended with a sharing of the spoils, a 1-1 draw with Panama in the American’s 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup opener at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Dom Dwyer’s strike for the Yanks five minutes into the second half was cancelled out by a Miguel Camargo goal for the Los Canaleros just ten minutes later.
“We didn’t play well on the day,” said U.S. Manager Bruce Arena, “I give Panama credit. They looked like a little bit more of an experienced team at this level.”
While the U.S. squad competing for this continental championship has routinely been called a “B team”, the roster is still filled with enough talent to win it all. Saturday’s effort however was not exactly what Arena and his staff had in mind to start the competition off, the result itself and the single point attained perhaps not as troubling as the struggles that were quite visible on the pitch, both from individuals and the collective unit.
Some would say the Americans were fortunate to walk out of the stadium with a draw, Panama looking more than capable of winning and squandering a few chances of their own in the second half, as well as being thwarted by Brad Guzan on several occasions, the U.S. goalkeeper making seven saves on the day.
As the U.S. look ahead to their second Group B fixture on Wednesday against Martinique in Tampa Bay, we take a look at what we learned from a hot and muggy Saturday in the Music City, an underwhelming afternoon with a few bright spots sprinkled in.
Dwyer on the Double: Two caps. Two goals. It’s awfully hard for U.S. fans to not adore Dom Dwyer at this early stage of his international career. The British-American forward from Sporting Kansas City put the U.S. in the lead in the 50th minute against Panama, after opening his account on his debut in a friendly against Ghana one week prior.
Dwyer got on the end of a delightful low cross from Kelyn Rowe, the New England Revolution man putting in a decent shift in his first Gold Cup match, apart from a crucial defensive lapse that led to the Panama equalizer.
The finish from Dwyer was exquisite, placed low and to Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon’s lower left corner from about ten yards out, across his body with a defender on his back after making a darting run toward the near post.
In Dwyer, the U.S. have found a forward with a cutting edge and a fierce desire, a man with a willingness to do the extra work necessary to help his team. While his quality in the final third could have been a bit better against Panama, it’s hard to argue with Dwyer’s scoring output while wearing a U.S. shirt.
With neither Juan Agudelo or Jordan Morris doing anything of note off the bench for Arena, it will be interesting to see if Dwyer receives a third consecutive start against Martinique.
Bewildered Besler: Of all the poor individual showings on Saturday, (there were quite a few) there was one that was particularly insipid. It was that of U.S. center-back Matt Besler. The Sporting K.C. defender has been anxious to rediscover his form with the national team, the kind that saw him become a linchpin under Jurgen Klinsmann in the buildup to the 2014 World Cup.
Many around the U.S. camp saw this Gold Cup as a fantastic opportunity for Besler to make a statement of intent and make a push back onto the pitch for the remainder of World Cup Qualifying. Instead, his performance against Panama will possibly have Besler pushed aside for the likes of Matt Hedges and Matt Miazga for the rest of the group stage.
Besler was caught in no man’s land on the Panama goal, jogging back aimlessly after Rowe was beaten for pace toward the byline before awkwardly stumbling to the floor.
While the hot weather in Nashville seemed to hinder the pace of play and lessen the effectiveness of multiple players, Besler looked to be more impacted than anyone, his concentration lapsing at times with suspect marking and the speed of the Panama attackers doing a number on him on multiple occasions.
The tournament is still young, and Besler will almost surely be given another chance to shine in defense. If that chance comes, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Mangled in the Middle: To put it lightly, the U.S. midfield lacked cohesion against Panama. Some well deserved credit must go where it is due. Anibal Godoy played a fine game for Los Canaleros, the San Jose Earthquakes central defensive midfielder assuming the same workhorse role for his national team and doing a fantastic job at preventing any real fluidity from materializing in the center of the park for the Americans.
While Godoy and his fellow compatriots were gritty and organized, the U.S. midfield was equally timid and flummoxed throughout most of the 90 minutes.
Dax McCarty was almost nonexistent, the Chicago Fire string-puller looking lethargic and lost for much of the match. Much like Besler, the heat looked to be getting the best of McCarty, the 30 year-old giving a sluggish display in his long anticipated Gold Cup debut.
Joe Corona had a few scattered moments of quality in what was overall a performance far from his best. The creative and explosive Xoloitzcuintle of Club Tijuana was swift in transition and offered some good moments helping his side move forward, but the final ball was simply not there for Corona against Panama. He was subbed off for Agudelo just after the hour mark.
One of the most disappointing performances for Arena’s side came from young Kellyn Acosta, the 21 year-old playing quite possibly his worst game in a U.S. shirt. It was tough to peg what exactly was going on with the FC Dallas star, but he was off beat throughout the afternoon, a significant drop off from his showing in the friendly against Ghana, the match that saw Acosta slot home a gorgeous free-kick for his first goal with the national team.
With the mediocre showings from McCarty, Corona, and Acosta, look for Arena to call upon Seattle Sounders youngster Christian Roldan in the next match, and perhaps give veteran Philadelphia Union midfielder Chris Pontius a chance to start against Martinique on Wednesday.
Arena may elect to let things play out naturally, sticking with the same midfield crew from the start against the Caribbean minnows in hopes that chemistry develops as a result.
It is also interesting to note that Michael Bradley’s name is being brought up more and more as a potential reinforcement following the group stage, when each quarterfinal team is permitted up to six changes to its roster.
Of course, the U.S. have to get to the knockout rounds first, and Martinique will be a confident bunch filled with belief going into Wednesday night, their 2-0 win over Nicaragua seeing them sitting pretty atop Group B.
(Stay tuned to SoccerNation.com for more coverage of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and follow on Twitter @Soccer_Nation.)