Tim Howard, Omar Gonzalez hold firm as U.S. battle to 1-1 draw in Panama
CONCACAF qualifiers in Central America might never be easier for the U.S. than this. Just four days after having their way with Honduras on home soil, the Americans walked into a street fight in Panama City and were lucky to get out with a point via a 1-1 draw.
A few of the newer faces in the USMNT setup shined again in the very different conditions of Estadio Rommel Fernandez. The left side of the field was good for the bulk of the game, with Darlington Nagbe and Jorge Villafana playing a relatively clean match. Christian Pulisic again stepped up when the team needed him, and perhaps just as important, he received a lesson in the difficulties of playing on the road in CONCACAF. The U.S. can take the education and the point back home with some satisfaction.
For much of the match, the Americans looked sluggish and unable to match the hosts' intensity. The bumpy field had something to do with the lack of passing quality, but there was also a frantic nature to the U.S. when on the ball. A failure to connect play in midfield left space for the Panamanians to come at the U.S. back line with numbers on more than one occasion. Dempsey scored, but Altidore was a nonfactor, and in general, the attack lacked sharpness. Panama's goal came from a simple inability of three American players to clear a long throw.
5.5 -- Arena had his hands tied because of the rash of injuries that hit the team, but there were a few decisions that deserve scrutiny. The choice to start Tim Ream over Matt Besler had some scratching their heads, especially because of the lack of a relationship between Ream and his defensive partner, Omar Gonzalez. Jermaine Jones was not effective, either because of his positional indiscipline or because of his fitness. Tactically, the midfield was a mess.
That said, the goal was to get a point on the road, and Arena accomplished that task.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Tim Howard, 8 -- Howard made a pair of massive saves to give his team a chance to take something from the game.
DF Graham Zusi, 5.5 -- Zusi was a positive for most of the night, though he was thoroughly turned around by Panama's wingers on a few occasions. The word for his work is "passable."
DF Omar Gonzalez, 8 -- He did an excellent job reading the game and stepping up when required. Gonzalez provided good emergency defending when Panama broke through the U.S. defensive line.
DF Tim Ream, 6 -- A little good, a lot of questionable. The game seemed too physical for him, though he did manage to arrive at the right moment to quell a few dangerous chances.
DF Jorge Villafana, 6 -- Villafana played his position effectively. He was limited in the attack except for a few moments, however, and was implicit on the Panama goal in some measure.
MF Michael Bradley, 5.5 -- He was left alone to link the back line and the forwards but was still too sloppy with his passing. His set piece service was also lacking.
MF Jermaine Jones, 4.5 -- Jones was a mess positionally and provided almost no cover defensively. He failed to find any connection with Bradley, which created big gaps for Panama to exploit.
MF Christian Pulisic, 7 -- He created the U.S.'s only goal with a little bit of skill and a lot of will. Pulisic received a battering all night from his markers but managed to keep his head in the match through 90 minutes.
MF Darlington Nagbe, 7 -- Maybe the best player on the field across the entirety of the first half, Nagbe was good on the ball and pushed the pace when space appeared.
FW Clint Dempsey, 6 -- He scored the lone U.S. goal, which makes the night a success on the whole. Dempsey starved a bit for service and wasn't able to get on the ball consistently.
FW Jozy Altidore, 4 -- He was effectively marked out of the game by Roman Torres. Frustrated by the physical tone of the game, Altidore simply did not impact the game in any meaningful way.
MF Alejandro Bedoya, 6.5 -- Bedoya helped lock things down when the game seemed to be slipping from the Americans' grasp. He was smart on the ball and popped up in the attacking third more than once.
MF Kellyn Acosta, NR -- He committed a few rough touches but was otherwise calm and composed in his limited time.
FW Paul Arriola, NR -- He pushed forward and threatened in the attacking end with the clock winding down but was unable to play an accurate ball into the box.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.