TSG’s Official USA vs. Panama Preview: Will The Third Time Be Charming?

Will Jones sport the armband again? Will he have a better first touch? (Photo credit: Joshua Pearson)

When we last met our protagonist–the USMNT–it was doing battle north of the border, putting out a tiny skirmish, so to speak, that was attempting to be kindled by Venezuela.

The States controlled “the battle” and at the death put the South American foe to the proverbial sword, 1-0 after a dominating display–especially in midfield–against an overmatched opponent. Good shifts were also put in in central defense where Michael Parkhurst and Geoff Cameron cleaned up all comers, like two parents guarding the home pennant in Capture The Flag against bumbling kids.

Wednesday, the States draws it’s revolver against a familiar foe in Panama, a team that gave the US their tightest two matches at the Gold Cup with the series being split 1-1. The first game being the so-called, but inaccurately-labeled “Tim Ream” match, and the second being the more aptly named “Freddy Adu Revival” game.

Panama is a rejuvenated side in no small part to TSG fave Julio Dely Valdes and the US’s success or failure against this foe will provide the best litmus test to date about the level of US possession-oriented attacking soccer and the teaching of one Jurgen Klinsmann.

Why is that?

Under Dely Valdes Panama has become a highly disciplined side, adept at the counter attack. Panama’s tactics will probably be similar to Venezuela’s on Saturday–only they’ll be better in all facets.

The US’s foe knows what’s coming and is good at preparing. Barometer time for Klinsmann’s campers.

Will more late-match theatrics be needed from Ricardo & Co.?

TSG What We’re Looking For

• Does The Attacking Swashbuckling Continue?

As mentioned Panama presents a stronger squad to navigate than Venezuela. The US got both a ton of space on the ball and a lot of room to manuveur against their Saturday opponent.

The contrarian TSG was less than impressed that night though with the efforts of Benny Feilhaber and Jermaine Jones on Saturday. Panama will show just a little bit more if they are both fit for senior side trials or both pretenders more comfortable at the junior level going forward.

No Felipe Baloy–the Panamanian captain–for the home side, but the defensive integrity should still be tougher to break down.

• Cameron (+ Beckerman) vs. Ream vs. Perez?

While the comparisons would be unfair–two different systems, different competition level, different showcasing needs (Panamanian forward Blas Perez has since landed a contract with FC Dallas)–they’ll happen.

New FC Dallas man Blas Perez is a handful to bring down...

Geoff Cameron will play LCB, the position that Tim Ream did in Gold Cup when he was scapegoated for the game-winning foul on Perez and subsequent penalty for a 2-1 Panama win in the group stage. It was the USMNT’s first loss in the group stage in Gold Cup history.

Perez was crafty that day–always is–but Ream also was not shielded–because of an overtasked central midfield–from the most challenging situation for a CB: where to hold the line and how far to come up.

Ream’s mistake was one of probability, less of ability. Put a novice CB in one-on-one situations–as Ream was frequently tasked–and they’ll make a rookie mistake.

On Wednesday, expect El Germanisimo (Klinsmann?) to play a higher line with Cameron and Parkhurst and for Beckerman to shield that backline preventing fewer back-to-the-basket-and-turn chances. Perez, less than Luis Renteriea, provides less speed at getting behind a backline.

Cameron–and Parkhurst–should profit. Fans should review those few times that Cameron is tasked one-on-one for defending ability to get a good sense of where Cameron is on the senior side depth chart.

• Miscellaneous

» Does Nick Rimando get a start in goal on the road?

» Does Zack Loyd get a runout at either left or rightback–his play on Saturday would seem to merit it.

» Will Jermaine Jones and Benny Feilhaber still be the quarterbacks?

» Does Teal Bunbury give way to CJ Sapong for a start or is it Chris Wondolowski who starts? Sapong seems audacious, but Bunbury did little  with his chances against clearly inferior competition on Saturday.

11 At The Whistle

About The Opponent: Panama

The Panama head honcho is a TSG favorite...

Have you heard TSG rave yet? Julio Dely Valdes….fantastic coach of Panama (as well as the country’s all-time leading scorer).

And he’s got more to the pedigree. Three years playing at La Liga side Malaga and two coaching.

Dely Valdes has been flat-out gangbusters since taking over the team with a temporary “interim” tag in September 2010. He has, of course, long since shed the interim tag.

Panama hasn’t played yet this year, but it comes off a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in November that was sandwiched amongst it’s World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Take a look at the infographic at how the Los Canaleros did in 2011. The table doesn’t lie.

Dely Valdes has made Panama more competitive through preparation, discipline and a reliance on the strengths of his midfielders and forwards–largely one-on-one play and speed. Dely Valdes takes advantage of those strengths by typically sitting deep and countering, not unlike Saturday’s opponent Venezuela only much better. The former international star will have a younger side to work this week, but expect to be no less drilled.

On the “break” Panama, much like a basketball fastbreak, will pinball the ball outside to wing who will carry vertically and make a decision off what the attacking midfielder (likely either Quintero or Sanchez tomorrow) does of whether the forwards (most certainly Perez and Renteria tomorrow) check back or make an angling or diagonal run.

When Panama commands the run of play instead of countering, expect the States’ opponent to work it quickly to their forwards and have the midfielder work off their possession of the ball. One more note, Panama is excellent on set pieces.

Finally, one last note, Panama changes up their formation and tactics at the Gold Cup after their group stage win so you can bet the the Panamanian head man has seen Jurgen Klinsmann’s goal of dictating play and pressing up the pitch and instilled–or at least attempted to instill-a game plan to thwart this.

Panama's expected line-up...

40 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dth on 2012/01/24 at 12:34 PM

    Really? None of this:


  2. Posted by Yaznasty on 2012/01/24 at 1:23 PM

    You out Howard in goal. Think he’ll fly out for this game (yeah right) or was that just force of habit?


  3. Howard in goal WOULD be a surprise.

    I’m fascinated to see what Der Kaisermensch (playing with words there) does with the young guys. I loved the style from the other night, but LORDY we still can’t put the biscuit in the basket.


  4. Posted by Dylan on 2012/01/24 at 1:57 PM

    I want to see Zach Loyd at LB. He impresses me every time he gets a shot with the Nats.


    • Posted by Jim from NC on 2012/01/24 at 5:19 PM

      Zach Loyd shows some interesting promise but he is not a left back. He needs to get a left foot. He had several opportunities on Saturday to cross it with his left and he cut it back to his right boot every time. I would like to take a look at him on the right though.


      • Posted by Martin on 2012/01/24 at 9:31 PM

        “He needs to get a left foot.”

        Players with a useful shot in both feet is the ideal but it is not absolutely necessary.

        Loyd’s crosses were very nice ones.

        There are quite a few good left backs and left wingers who are right footed.

        Arjen Robben uses his right foot only to stand on but plays on the right wing. Everyone knows what he is going to do but no one seems to be able to stop him. Eric Lichaj is very right footed and played what by all accounts was a very credible left back when he was at Leeds.


        • Posted by Jim from NC on 2012/01/25 at 4:45 PM

          I understand that being two footed is not a absolute necessity to be a successful soccer player and I know Loyd can cross the ball well with his right boot and he did several times in Saturday’s game. However it was extremely frustrating to watch him pass up opportunities to cross dangerous balls into the box because the ball was on his left boot. I know we have players in the pool (Lichaj & Chandler for example) that have played left back and are right footed. Maybe they also have issues with the strong foot/weak foot, but I have not seen them cut every left footed opportunity back to the right foot like I did with Loyd on Saturday.


  5. Posted by John Henry on 2012/01/24 at 1:58 PM

    Totally off topic, but I was watching highlights of the gold cup final… I think howard should have stopped at least 2 of those goals. Even Dos Santos’s goal shouldn’t have happened in the first place, with howard flapping around like a dodo bird.

    I would say both Ghana goals were also fairly savable. Is Tim Howard a choker???


  6. Don’t forget Howard had fairly significant injuries from earlier in the WC when Emile Heskey went flying into his ribs. He does have the occasional positioning issue but a lot of the time his reflexes and athleticism cover for that.

    As for the GC…I’m not gonna go back to watch that game. I’d get too angry.


    • Posted by Martin on 2012/01/24 at 9:13 PM

      Those are excuses that don’t really wash.

      I don’t know whose call it was but if Howard’s injuries from Heskey kept him from playing his best then he should not have been out there. Especially not in a World Cup. Guzan was an able backup who had done a nice job in the must win Egypt game in the Confederations Cup.

      Howard is a fine keeper who has always been prone to the occasional disastrous lapse in concentration and focus, such as the first Ghana goal, a saveable shot on his near post. Watch a replay sometime. Clark lost the ball around the center circle so Howard had time to position himself for that shot.


  7. Posted by Alex on 2012/01/24 at 3:19 PM

    Would Wondo be able to play the RW position that Zusi has right now? Zusi to me was unimpressive, so I think sliding Wondo wide and putting in a classic “9” forward in Sapong would give us a different look than last game


  8. Posted by SamT on 2012/01/24 at 4:00 PM

    Hostility of the environment will be a significant factor in this one as well. Klinsmann’s first time to Central America. And first time for almost all of the squad as well. Even though it’s a Wednesday night friendly, I’m expecting strong home support.

    I could see some of our guys making nervous mistakes early. Noise may also prevent good communication along the back line. Will be interesting to see who shows good poise in that setting and who doesn’t.


    • This is especially poignant considering how few real veterans this squad will have. Rico, Benny and Heath are the only ones with more than 30 caps, and then Beckerman has 18…and then nobody else has more than 10. And to be quite frank, none of the vets have a great history of being poised and calm.


  9. Posted by Union on 2012/01/24 at 5:30 PM

    Never been a big fan of Wondo, much prefer to see what CJ Sapong can do as a target striker. I don’t think he has the skill of Teal, or the soccer mind of Wondo, but he is the best athlete out of the three. And he is a terror in the air, with his height, speed and jumps. Might as well give him a shot. Also not in favor of seeing anymore of Big Red (Jeff. L.) or Zusi, but I suppose the other options aren’t much better.

    Still don’t understand why Adu isn’t on this team. Would have been interesting to see what he could bring.


    • Posted by dikranovich on 2012/01/24 at 5:59 PM

      i think the u/23 players are going to play with the u/23 team until after the olympics and even though adu has time with the senior team, he is probably more important right now to coach porter, but adu might just get called in out of the blue for qualifing too.


    • Posted by dth on 2012/01/24 at 6:05 PM

      Well, the reason why Adu’s not on the team is because he hasn’t done anything to prove he belongs without doubt.

      Wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t start in u-23 qualifying.


      • Posted by dikranovich on 2012/01/24 at 8:53 PM

        the irony of your comments dth are that coach klinsmann will be watching tapes of the usa v panama in the semi finals last year and you know very well who he will see out there on the field doing damage to the panama defense, without a doubt.


      • Posted by Jim on 2012/01/25 at 7:22 AM

        Adu’s w/ the U23’s. And he’s been pulling the strings as playmaker in all of their recent friendlies. I’m not a massive Adu apologist, but I’m also not a defacto detractor.


        • Posted by dth on 2012/01/25 at 9:39 AM

          I’m not either, but Adu’s been stashed on the left wing for most u-23 scrimmages/games (if I’m reading the lineup card right), which is presumably Brek Shea’s spot if he is healthy and available for qualifying.


          • Posted by Union on 2012/01/25 at 11:01 AM

            I hear you dth, but as per usual, Adu is left in the no mans land in terms of his position. He doesn’t have the pace of a winger, but he also doesn’t have the defensive skill of a central midfielder. That being said, its undeniable that he was incredibly productive in his last two appearances for the senior team. And, I understand that he (like Shea, like Agudelo, like Teal) is a candidate for the Olympic qualifying, but that didn’t exclude the others from the senior camp, why should it have excluded him? I see this as the perfect opportunity for him to show Jurgen what he can do, whereupon at the U-23 level, he doesn’t have much to prove (being as though he played on the Olympic team 4 years ago).

            And in terms of this idea that he hasn’t proven himself worthy of the senior team, well okay, maybe. But as we all know, this is the B team, and to be honest, 80% of the team is unproven at the international level.

            I see his exclusion being mainly the result of poor fitness, but again, that doesn’t explain why he is starting for the U-23s….


    • Posted by Martin on 2012/01/24 at 9:18 PM

      My understanding is Adu spent the latter half of the season hurt. Everything else being equal, mMy guess would be that he isn’t up to the physical fitness standard that JK demands right now.


  10. Posted by CJ on 2012/01/24 at 7:17 PM

    I hadn’t even been aware the MNT was playing tomorrow (or this past Sunday) until I dragged my butt back to soccer church and loaded TSG for the first time in a couple weeks. Between your holiday layoff and my vacation, I really missed you guys!

    No love for the WNT? …I went to USSoccer to find out the game time tomorrow (for the men) and saw that the women are playing tonight. I have a huge crush on them and I’m not afraid to admit it. haha. But seriously, a Mexico friendly ought to warrant a little attentio, no?, or does their rivalry pale in comparison?


    • Posted by CJ on 2012/01/24 at 7:18 PM

      *would be playing tomorrow


    • Posted by Alex on 2012/01/24 at 8:01 PM

      How could you not look at TSG for weeks??


      • Posted by Izzy on 2012/01/24 at 8:30 PM

        By realizing they don’t update for weeks?

        (ily guys)


        • Posted by Gregorio on 2012/01/25 at 7:44 AM

          OMG heretic! sacreligious scoundrel!! How dare you Sir!
          TSG is updated promptly, of late there has a been a few delays, the Matt has a life and little responsibilty so I’m willing to wait a while. TSG is like a a great meal. sex , etc, ____ insert analogy. If one were to consume it every day one might grow tired or disinterested. so it needs to be frequent but not overdone otherwise it b eocmes stale.
          Anyway I don’t wish to sound like a TSG apologist but along with my daily check on my email accts is my perusual of this site. I must confess that TSG has become a form of self-care for me. After experiencing the emotionally laden & drainning burdens of my day. I use TSG and its band of miscrant to decompress and recharge my batteries, So Sir, please don’t disparage my drug of choice lest you become the receipent of a well thrown footy-boot or get the hair-dryer treatment!


    • Posted by Alex on 2012/01/25 at 2:57 PM

      Oh and on the USWNT topic, did you hear the mexican fans start an óle chant around the 30th minute when mexico strang about 5 passes together? Then the US subsequently intercepted a pass? I lol’d hard


  11. Posted by Izzy on 2012/01/24 at 8:28 PM

    I’ve always wondered if Wondolowski would do well as a false nine. I feel like sticking him up top alone is rarely ever going to work if you just make him sit there and wait for service. The key thing about him is is intelligence, both on and off the ball. His movement puts him in good positions or even creates space for others. He does smart, sometimes down right creative things with the ball, and he does them very quickly. He gets lambasted for his miss against this very team, but he actually set up Bradley with an amazing chance in that game with a brilliant one-touch layoff.

    I’d say he shows the requisite intelligence on and off the ball to be useful in such a role. The problem is really more about whether we’d ever use him in such a role for the U.S.”A” (pun intended) team.


    • Posted by Bode on 2012/01/24 at 9:01 PM

      I like this idea…

      I fear this would not work against better teams because the US would be unable to keep the ball on the ground, and wondo would become isolated from the midfield and the target of high balls that I’m not sure he can win and hold up well against top level defenders.

      BUT, in games that we will dominate, it could be a great way to get the attacking band of 3 (Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore in a “Hulk” role?) to get ahead of the ball and into scoring positions and pockets of space, as they are the strength of our team.


  12. Posted by dth on 2012/01/25 at 1:09 PM

    OT, but we need a full-scale investigation into Gareth Barry’s continued presence in big games.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/01/25 at 1:45 PM

      No we don’t obviously it’s some sort of deal with Manchester City to keep at least one English player on the team. :>

      You’re right. he’s horrendous…


      • Posted by dth on 2012/01/25 at 2:04 PM

        I feel like every time I tune into a Man City game, excited to see Nasri, Silva and Aguero doing their thing, I see Barry out there, being carted along, as if he’s the little brother someone’s mom insisted be included…

        Liverpool are playing quite stylishly. I think the LIVERPOOL IN CRISIS storyline is very much overdone. It takes time to rebuild, even if you spend on a Citizen scale. Although I’m sure everyone in red wishes they’d gotten Strurridge plus 30 million (or whatever it was) instead of Carroll. Let me just pat myself on the back for suggesting just that for a second…


      • Posted by Alex on 2012/01/25 at 2:54 PM

        Hey he does give city one amazing slip pass every, 3 games?


  13. […] 8:30 ET on ESPN3.com or Galavision. For our money, The Shin Guardian puts together some of the best USA game previews around. (The Shin […]


  14. Posted by Alex on 2012/01/25 at 5:50 PM

    Looks like a blue collar 4-4-2 from klinsmann tonight based on the Usmnt twitter feed
    Rimando. De La Garza, Parkhurst, Cameron, Loyd. Zusi, Jones, Clark, Shea. Wondolowski, Bunbury


    • Posted by Alex on 2012/01/25 at 5:54 PM

      I really hope Shea does well today. Those two forwards are just begging decent service and I don’t see the fullbacks or Zusi providing much


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