Five Things For Panama... Again
From the US National Team Players Association
The Individual: The USA has had a tougher than expected time allowing enough space for individual skill. When a US player takes a chance on the ball, it's almost as surprising for his own team as it is for the opposition. Players don't adjust, leaving minimal options and few second chance opportunities. Though this improved against Jamaica, it was also most of the reason the US didn't score as many goals as expected against Guadeloupe and couldn't get back into the game against Panama. It's easy enough to expect your skill players to be the difference, but so far that hasn't been the story of this US team.
The Group: As a squad, the US should be disappointed at their goals total. They've produced enough chances to expect more, but a combination of final touches, shot selection, and plan bad luck has limited the offense. There are moments when the US has seemed more interested in the buildup than the final shot. Ducking that reputation has yet to really happen. It's the pressure cooker scenario, where there's a distinct feeling that eventually the US offense will explode for multiple goals. Not a bad way to enter a semifinal winner-take-all game.
Playing The Advantage: In the wake of the Charlie Davies dive against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, Jermaine Jones wasn't left with much in the way of benefit of the doubt when his minimal contact response to the nearest Jamaican defender resulted in a game-altering red card. Jermaine Taylor was shown the early exit and the US responded with a second goal 13 minutes later. US coach Bob Bradley did the smart thing in getting Jones off the field eight minutes after the red card incident. No sense leaving a player already holding a yellow in the position to be the brunt of a makeup call. All of that said, Jones measured the risk/reward in the moment and saw an opportunity. For all of the US fans belaboring the point about diving, at this stage of the game would you rather be the victim or the beneficiary?
Route 1: At various points in this tournament, the USA has reverted to a style more closely associated with desperate lower division teams in England. Lob the ball up the field and hope for the best, and for the US that hasn't worked out all that well. And for good reason. The soccer equivalent of football's Hail Mary works just often enough to encourage teams out of ideas to try it. More often than not, it's a waste of energy. For all the talk of passing we heard coming out of the 4231 the US played against Jamaica, we already know the US has no problem hedging their chances with the long ball. It's unfortunate from a team that should be showing a higher level of tactical nuance.
Brothers Of The Brides: The US gets a rested eleven against Panama, in theory giving them a stronger squad than the one that beat Jamaica. Panama's showing against EL Salvador was the kind of chippy game that's become a cliché among the Caribbean teams. It doesn't work against a team like the USA because the US simply doesn't engage in that style of play. That's not a knock against the way Panama and El Salvador contested their semifinal, just a realistic assessment in differences of style of play. Panama will need to adjust more than the US, and they'll be doing it without their first choice attack.