Klinsmann and company lift a trophy as Brek Shea’s entrance into the match lifted a rather lifeless Gold Cup Final.
Panama Organized & Defensive
Panama manager Julio Dely Valdes attempted to mitigate a rampant American attack with a cautious game plan.
The Canaleros remained in a 442 but took little initiative in attacking. The two forwards, Perez and Torres stayed around the midfield stripe preventing the American defenders from making vertical passes in the center of the pitch.
Behind them were two banks of four, the spacing and tight marking would have made Jose Mourinho proud.
While Besler and Goodson saw no pressure, the Yanks struggled to build from the back due to the eleven Panamanians behind the ball. Most of the passes were horizontal and when the ball found Beckerman he was often forced into playing it to the fullbacks.
The attacking engine in this tournament has been provided by Quintero and Sanchez on the flanks. The pace packed wingers are confident enough to create from the dribble and set up chances for the strikers.
However, they took up quite deep positions on Sunday. The doubling up on the wings helped neutralize Corona and Bedoya for the first half, but they were so far away from goal that Panama had zero threat on the counter.
US Stymied for the First Hour
Around the half hour mark, the US boasted 77% possession but had not created a chance on goal. Adding to the slow start, Stuart Holden was subbed off for a knee injury and Mix Diskerud entered.
Instead of pinging the ball around the pitch, the tempo was very slow and Panama defended comfortably. Landon Donovan could not find time on the ball and Eddie Johnson was forced to pick up the ball in wide positions since he was starved in the center.
Pitcured above was one of the few times the US was able to vertically move the ball into the center of the pitch.
Goodson plays it to Johnson who links with Holden before the chance breaks down. More often the ball went out wide and Corona or Bedoya was double teamed and forced to send the ball backwards.
Beasley and especially Parkhurst were reluctant to push forward, possibly leaving space for a counter attack. In the center, Panama match two v two and Donovan was not used to drop deep to collect the ball. Instead, the first hour was a stalemate.
Shea’s Entrance Changes the Game
The mercurial Stoke winger’s entrance onto the pitch in the 68th minute for Joe Corona altered the match. Corona was kept quiet and his drifting inside to combine with Donovan was ineffective; so Klinsmann (or whoever made the substitution decisions) opted for a true wide player who would test the Canalero back line with direct running and left footed crossing.
He provided the winning goal, albeit a simple tap in, just after entering the match. The work was done by Bedoya on the right; he cut back to his left and swept in a cross across the six yard box. Landon Donovan beat Roberto Chen, who was caught ball watching, to the near post but he whiffed his attempt and Shea was there at the back post.
Yet, it was his impressive work after scoring that emphasized his presence.
Shea and Donovan played an odd combination where Donovan sent Shea down the left with a pass from his butt and Shea played a perfect cross to Eddie Johnson who sent it over the bar from five yards out.
Also, there was a counter attack which Donovan sent Shea in on goal but the lanky Texan mis-controlled and the chance was spurred. Showing the ability to change a match off the bench and look dynamic on the counter attack could earn Shea a seat on the American jet to Brazil.
Seeing your team lift a trophy, even if it was a second rate tournament, should always be celebrated. The final will not be remembered as a classic, but the sizable Soldier Field crowd went home happy after the US found a way through a disciplined Panama side.
How the Gold Cup impacts the ‘A’ side going forward remains to be seen. One could argue the case for most of the players to be called in for the next round of qualifiers. Yet, they played poor competition and only a handful of slots remain open.
Eddie Johnson brings a diverse skill set to the table; he can play in several positions, has speed, can beat players off the dribble and also win aerial duels.
Brek Shea can possibly be used as a dynamic bench option. Mix Diskerud possesses a bundle of energy in the center of the park and also has a creative element to his passing. Joe Corona, Jose Torres and Alejandro Bedoya have shown flashes of attacking spark. Hopefully, Stu Holden can recover quickly; it was sickening seeing him leave with a knee injury.
At the back, Clarence Goodson was very strong in the air against Blas Perez, possibly challenging Omar Gonzalez for a starting spot. Demarcus Beasley is at least a shoe in as a squad player; his leadership and consistency this summer has been tremendous.
Michael Parkhurst and Edgar Castillo were less impressive. Parkhurst played fullback too conservatively and Castillo is frustrating in how often he gives the ball away. Matt Besler was a rock and Nick Rimando is a great third goalkeeper. Finally, Landon Donovan was outstanding and has returned to form.
This summer has been a tremendous one for Klinsmann and the boys. They lead the hex, have won a trophy and Mexico look to be in disarray. What more could US fans ask for?
Who deserves a look in the ‘A’ squad moving towards Brazil? Tweet @kpngacleansheet or write on the Keeping a Clean Sheet Facebook Wall.