USA Pummels Panama 3-0; Americans in Great Shape Halfway Through World Cup Qualifying

PANAMA CITY Panama (From USSoccer.Com) — The U.S. Men’s National Team recorded a resounding 3-0 victory on Wednesday evening against Panama at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City further entrenching the team’s bid for a birth in the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006. The 3-0 win was the second of the week for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying and came courtesy of goals from Carlos Bocanegra Landon Donovan and Brian McBride.

The victory improves the U.S. to 4-1-0 halfway through qualifying and places them in second place in their six-team group with 12 points just one behind Mexico’s 13. With Mexico defeating Trinidad & Tobago 2-0 tonight at home the gap between the U.S. and fourth place (the qualifying cutoff point) was widened to eight points after Costa Rica downed Guatemala 3-2 at home.

"We are the first team in this cycle to beat Panama at home said U.S. Manager Bruce Arena immediately following the game. "As critical as we are sometimes of our performances getting a result like that is exceptional. The first goal was big the second goal was terrific and then Kasey Keller once again was tremendous. In most game reports that will go unnoticed but those three saves were tremendous. Overall we did what we had to do. The back line played very well and we scored opportunistic goals."

Carlos Bocanegra opened up the scoring after just six minutes for the U.S. heading home a powerful shot off the hands of goalkeeper Donald Gonzalez and off the underside of the crossbar after a well-placed corner from Landon Donovan. The goal was the sixth of the high-scoring defender’s national team career.

"I just got up and got high on the ball and put it in said Bocanegra. "It was a big goal especially in a hostile environment. We knew we had to go and get goals and force them to chase the game. We got really confident after the third goal but we knew anything could happen. We didn't want to have a repeat of Saturday (where the U.S. struggled early in the second half against Costa Rica)."

After setting up Bocanegra’s opening goal Donovan tallied himself in the 20th minute. On the goal Steve Ralston stole a ball on the right flank and raced down the field hitting a near-post cross to a streaking Donovan 10 yards from the goal. Donovan was able to rise above Panama’s Felipe Baloy and curl a header just inside the far post for a 2-0 lead.

"I just put the ball in said Ralston on his assist. "I don't know how he got to it but that was an amazing header."

For Donovan the game’s opening goal and assist continued his torrid streak of having scored at least one point in 12 of the USA’s 13 World Cup qualifying games on the road to Germany 2006. Donovan’s scoring pace in high-profile qualifying matches is unrivaled in the history of the U.S. Men’s National Team.

The third U.S. goal came after an intense 20 minutes of pressure from Panama and effectively killed the game for the United States going into the second half. On the goal that iced the game McBride was fouled in the 40th minute giving the U.S. a free kick from 35 yards out. Donovan's cross into the area was powered out of the penalty area rolling to Frankie Hejduk 30 yards from goal where he hit a low ball that was cleared errantly by Panama defender Felipe Baloy. The poor touch landed at McBride's feet 12 yards from goal and while leaning back the USA’s second all-time leading scorer managed a left-footed shot that caught Gonzalez off-guard and hit the inside of the net on the right side of the goal giving the U.S. a 3-0 advantage.

"That is a great percentage we will take that any time said Ralston about the USA's three goals on four shots in the first half. "The first two goals were really huge and after that we were able to sit back a little bit and ride it out and come up and take our chances on counterattacks. They were still a very dangerous team. Kasey made three great saves so we knew that at 3-0 they were still dangerous."

With their goals McBride and Donovan continue to move up the USA’s all-time scoring chart with McBride now sitting on 28 all-time goals (six behind Eric Wynalda for the top spot). Donovan’s tally moved him ahead of Bruce Murray into fourth place all by himself with 22 goals just two behind Joe-Max Moore’s career totals. Additionally McBride now has nine qualifying goals all-time (tied with Stewart for the U.S. lead) while Donovan now has seven (tied with Eddie Johnson for third all-time).

"We can't think about it said McBride referring to the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the USA's strong qualifying position. "It is nice. It is good that we've put some wins together now. We got three points and we just need to continue to do that. Two wins from now we'll be OK but until then we'll just think about the next game."

The saves by Keller that Arena referred to in his post-match comments came in a bang-bang stretch with the U.S. leading 2-0 midway through the first half. In the 26th minute sequence Julio Medina hit a cross into the penalty area where Roberto Brown powered a header pegged for the right corner that Keller sprawled to his left to save.

On the first rebound Baloy was lurking at the far post and slammed a shot toward goal that Keller stuffed from five yards out. The rebound of Baloy’s attempt then popped into the air where Brown’s second shot was headed sharply from three yards out where Keller somehow sprung from the ground into its path to not only stop the attempt but snare the shot in his hands. The sequence of three brilliant saves for Keller took all of five seconds.

For Keller the shutout was the 39th in his 81-game U.S. MNT career and his 17th in 29 World Cup qualifying appearances. The goalkeeper also has three straight qualifying shutouts and a shutout streak of 327 minutes.

The only bad news for the U.S. on the evening came in the 10th minute when defender Eddie Pope picked up his second yellow card of qualifying requiring him to sit out the USA’s next qualifier (on Aug. 17 against Trinidad & Tobago in East Hartford Conn.). On the night Pope was making his 30th appearance in World Cup qualifying for the U.S. tying him with Earnie Stewart and Cobi Jones for an all-time U.S. best.

Lost in the shuffle of the dominating win was the fact that the victory for the U.S. marked just the fifth time in 17 World Cup qualifiers in Central America that the U.S. was victorious.

Following tonight’s game the U.S. takes a short break in advance of the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup which kicks off for the team against Cuba on July 7 in Seattle. The U.S. also plays Canada on July 9 in Seattle and Costa Rica on July 12 in Foxboro Mass. as part of Group B action. The 12-team Gold Cup runs through July 24 with the semifinals and finals set for Giants Stadium in East Rutherford N.J.

The U.S. resumes the second half of their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with consecutive home games against Trinidad & Tobago on Aug. 17 in East Hartford Conn. and against Mexico on Sept. 3 in Columbus Ohio.

-- U.S. Men’s National Team Game Report --

Match-up: USA vs. Panama
Date: June 8 2005
Competition: FIFA World Cup qualifier – CONCACAF
Venue: Estadio Rommel Fernandez – Panama City Panama
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. CT
Attendance: 17000 (est.)
Weather: 83 degrees very humid

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
Panama 0 0 0
USA 3 0 3

Scoring:
USA – Carlos Bocanegra (Landon Donovan) 6th minute.
USA – Landon Donovan (Steve Ralston) 20.
USA – Brian McBride (unassisted) 40.

Lineups:

USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 6-Steve Cherundolo 23-Eddie Pope (3-Gregg Berhalter 86) 4-Carlos Bocanegra 3-Frankie Hejduk; 14-Steve Ralston 25-Kerry Zavagnin 17-Pat Noonan (15-Bobby Convey 81); 10-Landon Donovan 20-Brian McBride (Capt.) 7-DaMarcus Beasley (8-Clint Dempsey 63)
Subs not used: 1-Marcus Hahnemann 11-Conor Casey 19-Clyde Simms 16-Josh Wolff
Head Coach: Bruce Arena

PAN: 1-Donaldo Gonzalez; 5-Felipe Baloy 2-Amilcar Henriquez (7-Engin Mitre 75) 16-Joel Jimenez (13-Joel Solanilla 39) 4-Jose Anthony Torres (Capt.); 6-Gabriel Gomez 10-Julio Medina; 8-Alberto Blanco 11-Roberto Brown 9-Jose Garces 15-Ricardo Phillips (18-Luis Tejada 39)
Subs not used: 12-Jaime Penedo 14-Gustavo Avila 17-Neftali Diaz 19-Blas Perez
Head Coach: Jose Hernandez

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Eddie Pope (caution) 10th minute.
USA – Carlos Bocanegra (caution) 26.
PAN – Felipe Baloy (caution) 51.
USA – Pat Noonan (caution) 70.

Officials:
Referee: Mauricio Navarro (CAN)
1st Asst.: Simon Fearn (CAN)
2nd Asst.: Zoran Kristo (CAN)
Fourth Official: Silvio Petrescu (CAN)

ussoccer.com Man of the Match: Carlos Bocanegra