SEATTLE – The Emerald City had been waiting 37 years to host a show like this. On Tuesday night, they got exactly what they asked for.
Behind goals on either side of halftime from Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson, the US national team bagged a comprehensive 2-0 win over Panama in front of 40,847 at CenturyLink Field that saw the Americans move into sole possession of first place in the CONCNACAF Hexagonal halfway through the final round of World Cup qualifying.
With their best offensive performance so far in the Hex, the US made the better plays, connected more passes, made better runs and finally found ways to unlock a stout Panamanian defense that has dogged them for years.
As expected, the US saw the majority of the ball throughout the match and enjoyed fantastic interplay between Michael Bradley in central midfield and Fabian Johnson and Eddie Johnson on either wing and DaMarcus Beasley on the overlap out left.
It took them until the 36th minute to put a notch on the scoreboard, but it was a strike to admire. Off a quick counter, Bradley surged upfield and found Fabian Johnson making a run for the left corner. Johnson then sent in a ball across the entire goalmouth to the waiting feet of Altidore, who finished easily past ’keeper Jaime Penedo for his third goal in as many games in a US shirt.
Eight minutes out of the break, the Americans struck again when Geoff Cameron took a touch at the midfield stripe and sent a gorgeous, 25-yeard chip over the top of Panama’s midfield to Eddie Johnson, who made a perfect run at the top right corner of the box and got in alone behind the defense.
From there, it was an easy finish for the Seattle Sounders star, who put it past a diving Penedo and celebrated in front of the Brougham End.
The US could’ve had more. They nearly struck just three minutes in when a rebound fell to Fabian Johnson at the far post, but he slammed a left-footed volley over the bar. Bradley was robbed of a goal by his own teammate in the 22nd minute when he drove a shot right at the center of goal that deflected off Dempsey.
Then in the late going, Beasley had the chance to put an exclamation point on the result off a gorgeous give-and-go with Eddie Johnson, but the three-time World Cup veteran put his shot off the left post despite being in alone on Penedo.
US goalkeeper Tim Howard wasn’t tested often, mostly being called on the cut off crosses from Panama’s wingers. He was beaten in first-half stoppage time when Anibal Godoy found Luis Tejada behind the US backline with a pretty chip, but Tejada’s goal was waved off after the linesman judged him offside.
The only bad news was Beasley receiving a yellow card in second-half stoppage time that will see him miss the US’ next game against Honduras in Salt Lake City due to card accumulation.
Jurgen Klinsmann went with a lineup that was as close as possible to the 11 he fielded in the US’ last two games, wins over Germany and Jamaica. Cameron slotted into central midfield in place of Jermaine Jones, who was out with a concussion. Eddie Johnson replaced suspended Graham Zusi on the right side of midfield.
With Los Canaleros missing FC Dallas star striker Blas Pérez due to gastroenteritis, head coach Julio Dely Valdés shifted to a 4-2-3-1 with Panama’s all-time leading scorer Luis Tejada alone up top.
Despite an attendance cap that prevented CenturyLink from its full soccer capacity of 67,000, Tuesday night’s crowd was the seventh-largest ever for a World Cup qualifier on US soil.
The victory puts the US on 10 points through five games in the Hex – the exact same spot they were in halfway through qualifying in 2009. Jurgen Klinsmann now takes his team to Utah, where they’ll face Honduras on June 18 at Rio Tinto Stadium with a chance to put one foot in Brazil next summer.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Geoff Cameron||Jermaine Jones' replacement was supposed to be more defensive-minded, and he not only filled in superbly in that role, but provided some offense with the brilliant pass for EJ's goal|
|2||Michael Bradley||Cameron's partner in time was his usual self, making sensible passes, dictating tempo and making a surging run forward to set up the opener|
|3||Jozy Altidore||He's for real, ladies and gents. The finish was coolly taken, the hold-up play was strong, and above all, he was brimming with confidence|