U.S. left frustrated by 1-1 draw vs. Panama in Gold Cup opener
Three quick thoughts from the United States' 1-1 draw versus Panama in their 2017 Gold Cup opener on Saturday in Nashville.
1. U.S. stumbles in opener
This was never going to be easy for the U.S. History said as much; in nine previous Gold Cup meetings between the two countries, the margin of victory has never been more than a single goal. Saturday was no different.
What will be a concern for U.S. coach Bruce Arena is how his team lost control of the match after Dom Dwyer's 50th-minute opener. And truth be told, the next two matches against Martinique and Nicaragua won't exactly go a long way toward answering the questions that now riddle the U.S. defense and midfield.
While this was not a defeat, it was hardly the type of performance the U.S. wanted to open the tournament with, and any chance to quell the doubts that surround this team won't likely occur until the faceoff against another quality opponent in the quarterfinals.
There are many things for Arena to address, and the Gold Cup is a forgiving-enough tournament where that can happen, but this was clearly the first dent in Arena's second stint as national team coach.
2. Defensive worries for Arena
For a U.S. team that was viewed pretournament as being solid defensively, Saturday's outing will be worrisome for Arena. There were red flags from the U.S. defense in the first half, and that manifested itself in the second 45 minutes when Miguel Camargo struck for Panama's equalizer.
To start, Panama's transition game made for uncomfortable moments for the U.S. The defense failed to close down on several Panama chances from outside the area, namely a Camargo chance midway through the half -- goalkeeper Brad Guzan needed every bit of his left hand to deflect wide the New York City FC man's shot.
The theme continued into the second half, and once Panama raised the tempo after Dwyer's goal, the U.S. really started to struggle. If not for some stellar stops from Guzan on a pair of Gabriel Torres chances, and Ismael Diaz somehow shooting over the crossbar from 2 yards out, the Panama goal would have come sooner. But it showed how out of sorts the U.S. back line was, and Camargo's equalizer off a rebound was well-deserved.
The U.S. defenders can't all be faulted, though. There were giveaways by defensive midfielder Dax McCarty, and Kellyn Acosta was slow to react in several instances. Also, a poor decision by Kelyn Rowe set the table for a Torres chance that eventually resulted in Camargo's equalizer.
If the U.S. is to win this tournament, it will be imperative for Arena to get things cleaned up defensively.
3. U.S. attack struggles
Panama was ready for this match and successfully blunted the U.S. attack through the first half by flooding the midfield to take away the passing of McCarty and Acosta. With little space in the center of the field, the U.S. was forced to try to play out wide to the flanks, but too often a pass sailed out of bounds or a hopeful long ball was turned over to Panama.
Summing up the U.S. frustrations in midfield was Joe Corona's lack of impact. After a fine outing versus Ghana, the Club Tijuana man was inaccurate with his passing and had too many giveaways. Overall, the spacing of the U.S. midfield made for a choppy and forgettable 90 minutes.
Rowe was one of the bright spots for the U.S. in the first half, and his fantastic solo effort set up Dwyer's opener. It's the type of creativity that New England Revolution fans have been seeing for years, and now it is being shown on the national team stage. For a team that was lacking urgency, Rowe's playmaking and Dwyer's savvy finish was just the spark the U.S. needed.
But instead of building on that momentum, the U.S. was caught flat-footed by the Panamanian pressure and succumbed just 10 minutes later.
While the U.S. did reassert itself after Camargo's goal, it never did create a major scoring chance. Substitutes Juan Agudelo (Corona), Gyasi Zardes (Rowe) and Jordan Morris (Alejandro Bedoya) provided energy, but not the finishing touch.
That trio can't be faulted, though. By the time they arrived, Panama had already set the tone, and a U.S. team lacking sharpness would have needed something special to break through for a winner.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .