(Sunday, June 17, 2007) -- The United States men dominated an under-strength Panama yesterday, their 2-1 victory at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., propelling them to the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals. As was the case with their three preliminary group matches, the Americans should have won by much more.
The match was very physical with Panama fouling with abandon, as it did in the 1-0 loss to Mexico that dropped it from first to third place in Group C. The rough play threw Mexico off-stride, but did not seem to adversely affect the U.S. nearly as much.
Once again, the U.S. was guilty of some really dreadful finishing. The match was scoreless at the half, but with any kind of accurate marksmanship, the Americans should have taken a multi-goal lead into the locker-room.
Both U.S. goals came on dead-ball situations, a penalty kick by Landon Donovan in the 60th minute and Carlos Bocanegra's header off DaMarcus Beasley's corner kick two minutes later.
Generally speaking, the U.S. was better organized than in some of the earlier Gold Cup games and the Americans didn't concede any scoring opportunities until its defense became disorganized in the late going.
Donovan, who was the best U.S. player yesterday, started the match playing wide right in a four-man midfield. In the second half, he moved more into the middle and the Americans seemed more balanced after that. Donovan became more involved in the attack with a positive result.
Panama faced the Americans without three of its four best players -- midfielders Gabriel Gomez and Rolando Escobar, and defender Roman Torres sat out with suspensions. With the three in action, Panama certainly would have been a more formidable opponent. With new coach Alexandre Guimaraes, who previously led Costa Rica into the World Cup, Panama has staked its claim to be the third best team in North America, Central America and the Caribbean after the U.S. and Mexico.
"It's a good win for us," U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said after. Good in the sense that the American advanced to face Canada in Thursday's semifinals. However, to capture the Gold Cup, the U.S. must find a way to score from the run of play and solve its poor finishing.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Was not pressured often and when he was, Panama wasted opportunities with poor marksmanship. He could not be faulted on the Panama's goal in a workman-like effort.
Defender Frankie Hejduk - 6.5: The veteran was the best U.S. defender. He made few mistakes at the back and cleaned up the problems of others, while remaining an offensive threat, running tirelessly until the final moments. A strong match.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6: Scored the second U.S. goal with a well-placed header after making a beautiful move to get free. Was generally flawless on defense, except when there were breakdowns in communication between he and Oguchi Onyewu or midfielders on defense.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 5: He had an up-and-down match. At times, he was the strength of the defense, but he still has a bad tendency to chase the ball and to pull himself out of position. He was responsible on Panama's goal and several other breakdowns Panama failed to capitalize on.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5: Never got into the match, either on defense or offense. Yet, he was not called on to do much either.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: Did some good things, but was not as active as in some previous matches in this competition. He seemed to defer to Pablo Mastroeni at times when he should have taken the lead.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 6: In his second match of the tournament following his World Cup suspension, he seemed to settle in. He was quite active in the physical encounters with the rough Panamanians, but still needs to work better and improve communication with his defenders.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6: Worked tirelessly again. He was sharp on both ends of the field, but he failed to convert chances. His placed a perfect corner kick on Bocanegra's head for the eventual game-winner.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7: Embraced his role as the best American player. Against a speedy team, he used his pace to great advantage and, at times, he dropped deep to help out on defense. If he could manage to consistently display this excellence, he'd live up to expectations.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6.5: Listed as a forward, he spent most of the time in the role of attacking midfielder. He has become a workhorse, attacking, defending and acting as an important link between defense and attack. His importance to the U.S. continues to grow.
Forward Taylor Twellman - 5: On the positive side, he often put himself into a great position to score. On the negative side, however, he continues to have problems putting his shots on target. He must start converting more chances or he might play himself off this team.
Midfielder Steve Ralston (71st minute for Twellman) - 5.5: Came on in a defensive role and did well at times, but did not have much impact overall.
Forward Brian Ching (84th minute for Dempsey) - 5.5: His fresh legs made for some very good touches and he helped defensively kill off the tense final minutes of the match.
Midfielder Ricardo Clark (89th minute for Donovan) - no rating: Was active in a strictly defensive substitution, but didn't have much to do.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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