For as much as I’ve ripped United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the past—and by golly he’s deserved it—he was the only reason Saturday afternoon’s Gold Cup opener between the United States and Panama remained level after 90 minutes. Well, that and Panama’s Roberto Soldado-like finishing.
Either way, Saturday afternoon didn’t bring much joy for US or Panamanian soccer fans. The match was sloppy, choppy and at times, excruciating to watch. At times, I felt like I was watching an exhibition match. And to some degree, it makes sense. Bruce Arena selected a relatively inexperienced squad for this Gold Cup. Panama certainly didn’t field their strongest team either. On the one hand they were the toughest matchup the US was going to get in Group B. On the other, you would have liked to see a smoother performance.
That said, if you’re going to experiment a little, this is the tournament to do it.
Still, after a fairly quick start to proceedings the first half slowed to a crawl. Both sides continued looking for that decisive ball that never arrived. The US continued to build up possession in the final third only to ultimately turn the ball over while numerous Panama counter attacks petered out due to a misplaced final ball just when you thought they were going to break the deadlock.
Then came the second half, and Dom Dwyer’s tidy finish:
After Dwyer notched his second goal in as many senior international appearances, it’s as if the entire United States back line thought their work was done. But for the next 10 minutes, Panama went on the offensive. For the next 10 minutes, Brad Guzan would be called upon multiple times to keep the 1-0 scoreline intact. And he would answer those calls. But his back line would let him down one too many times—ultimately leading to this:
Perhaps Guzan could have done a little better with the rebound effort, but are you really going to fault him for that? I’m not. His back line was a disaster following the opening goal on Saturday. That goal was coming, and for a while. Panama wasn’t going to be masquerading as Roberto Soldado in a Spurs shirt forever.
After that, the intensity died down once again. Panama kept trying to hit on the counter but had trouble finding the winner. The US, meanwhile, almost seemed to go into a shell. They held the ball here and there, but nothing came of it. The closing 10-20 minutes of the contest reverted back to the slow, choppy pace of the first half.
Both countries are going to be disappointed with this result; how could they not be? Even more than that, the performances by each were severely lacking. Now Martinique and Nicaragua await, and while the former picked up a 2-0 win of their own on Saturday, both Panama and the United States will be looking to score—and score often—when they clash this week.
But while USMNT fans can hope for—and probably expect—better results, their Gold Cup campaign didn’t get off the the smoothest of starts Saturday afternoon.