Lacking flow, U.S. still nears Olympic qualifying semifinals by blanking Panama.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, March 14, 2008) -- Despite a rather disjointed performance, the United States under-23 men have put themselves in good position to advance to the semifinals of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a 1-0 victory over Panama in a Group A match last night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla..
By defeating Honduras in Saturday's group finale, the U.S. would win Group A, while a draw would mean second place and also a berth in the semifinals. Should Panama defeat Cuba in their final group game, the Americans would advance regardless of their result. The two semifinal winners earn a spot in this summer's Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The U.S. edged Panama on a penalty kick from striker Freddy Adu just before halftime. The only other times it came close to scoring was on dead-ball situations, the best opportunities coming just after intermission on a Stuart Holden free kick from the left side that a Panama defender almost steered into his own net and a Holden free kick in the 74th minute which he curled over the defensive wall. Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon made a diving save.
"I'm really pleased with the effort," U.S. coach Peter Nowak said, despite his team's obvious shortcomings. "I think our team played with a lot of heart tonight and we got the result after a very hard fight on the field. . . We're going to recover now and make sure we're ready for the third game."
Panama tried to play defensively, starting a single striker -- slightly built Gabriel Torres. The Americans countered with a three-man back-line which easily handled Torres and allowed the Panamanians only four shots on goal, none very dangerous.
Nowak made six player switches from the team that drew Cuba 1-1 Tuesday, sending Holden, Eddie Gaven and Sacha Kljestan in as attacking midfielders. Gaven, for the most part, stayed wide on the left side, while Kljestan was more central allowing the U.S. to play more down the middle than against Cuba.
However, the Americans could not establish a consistent attack. Except for a few minutes at the start of the game and at the beginning of the second half, the U.S. lacked continuity. The two best Americans against Cuba, Adu and midfielder Dax McCarty, seemed to tire noticeably in the second half, showing the effects of two physical matches in two days.
The U.S. did play at a better tempo than it did against Cuba, but the up-tempo movement did not really result in many quality scoring chances. For long stretches, it Americans seemed to be on cruise control and content to not allow Panama much of anything.
Panama's best chance came in the 85th minute when substitute Erwin Aguilar was sent down the right side with U.S. defender Nathan Sturgis out of position. American central defender Michael Orozco came over to close him down but, despite staring at plenty of net, Aguilar shot wide.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz - 5.5: For a second straight match, he was not tested much.
Defender Marvell Wynne - 5.5: Used his speed well by pushing up into the attack from time to time, while also denying Panama chances.
Defender Michael Orozco - 5.5: In his first tournament, he might end up a big find for the U.S. A tough defender gaining experience playing in Mexico.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 5.5: Slid out on the left side of the three-man back-line and covered a lot of ground.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5: Essentially the defensive midfielder, he made few mistakes and was not much of a factor.
Midfielder Dax McCarty - 5.5: Played a bit more defensively then he did against Cuba. Seemed to tire, undoubtedly the effect of two hard matches in 48 hours..
Midfielder Stuart Holden - 6: What offense the U.S. could muster went through him as he roamed from side to side while also taking all the free kicks in a nice effort.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 5: Picked up on where he left off against Cuba in the second half, playing aggressively, though without much effect.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 5.5: He had a tidy penalty-kick conversion and a few dazzling moments, but was tightly marked and played very physically.
Midfielder Eddie Gaven - 5: Stayed wide for much of the evening, contributing at times, but not having a great overall effect.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 5.5: Did better than against Cuba. Was active over 90 minutes, but received little service fro a second straight outing.
Forward Sal Zizzo (64th minute for Gaven) - 5: Did not leave much of an imprint on the match.
Midfielder Robbie Findley (90th+ minute for Adu ) - no rating: Came on for a few seconds to waste time.
Forward Charlie Davies - (90th+ minute for Altidore) - no rating: Also inserted to waste time.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Stuart Holden.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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