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HRB Kickabout: USA ends schneid, beats Panama 2-0

It's the first win for the team since September; HRB's MC Bousquette, Sam Dunn, Gabriel Manga, and Raf Noboa y Rivera discuss the win.

Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring his 40th USA goal
Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring his 40th USA goal
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Bradley's olímpico puts an exclamation point on yesterday's win
by MC Bousquette

In an ideal world, a game against Panama wouldn't keep you up at night. Before yesterday, the U.S. had an 11-1-2 record against the Canaleros, the only loss coming four years ago in the Gold Cup. But in the real world, it had all the makings of a trap game. Panama was feeling its oats, its U-20 team having beaten the U.S. in World Cup qualifying last month; the U.S. was winless in five games, mired in turmoil.

I don't know whether yesterday's difference was motivational, fitness-related, or simply more playtime with the particular lineup, but today's squad looked like an entirely different group of players from those who lost to Chile a week and a half ago and kind of ruined my birthday. In the end, today's win against Panama provided a far more pleasant surprise than did the results of the USWNT versus France earlier today.

First, let's talk about what's on everyone's mind: that GORGEOUS olimpico by Bradley. This is not an event to which the USMNT is accustomed, which is, by this time, a trite bit of analysis/snark pervading throughout the soccer interwebs. Jozy tried to get a piece of the header, but the glory does truly belong to Bradley. What a goal!

I'm not kidding. It's the kind of exquisite goal that would reduce Ray Hudson to paroxysms of joy. Here, have another look at it, courtesy of Univision:

Our hero of a captain, Clint Dempsey, served the squad well, especially with his goal to secure a more comfortable 2-0 lead. Zardes' role as a feeder cannot be emphasized enough; he is developing into a key playmaker for the squad, as demonstrated by his connection to Dempsey in the game's second goal.

I'm not exaggerating when I say this is potentially a turning point for the USMNT. JJ looked a bit more comfortable in his new slot, though to say he looked acclimated would be an overstatement. I was similarly pleased to see Brek Shea able to run for more than 35' minutes before exhaustion and leave less of a gaping hole behind him at all times. Wondo, on the other hand, is someone about whom I have few positive descriptors. He was generally a brat, a term I use freely because a) he was carded for his toddler-esque pushing match with Panama's Harold Cummings and b) because of his more-than-embarrassing whiff on Brek Shea's cross.

Wondo jawing

My #1 worried takeaway from this match, however, is quite simple: how injured is Yedlin?

Late in the game, Yedlin was scythed down from behind by a Panamanian defender. He was slow to get up, and he walked very gingerly off the field and into the locker room. I'm truly hoping it's a turned ankle and can be easily remedied. If it is, and Yedlin continues his development, the USMNT probably have a wingback partner for Fabian Johnson.

From one Michael to another
by Sam Dunn

The MLS expansion boys started for the Stars & Stripes once again, but Mix Diskerud imposed little on the run of play. He was substituted in the 72nd minute for Perry Kitchen, who looked far happier to be there. Brek Shea, making a rare appearance at left back, was fortunately not eaten alive by the opposing attack as he was against Chile. He did go the full ninety, however, and given the rap on him in terms of fitness, we likely will not see him again until he comes out of hyperbaric hibernation sometime in March.

For the rest of the squad, the formation and feel were more familiar on Sunday afternoon at the StubHub Center. One thing did happen, though, that I had never seen before:

Michael Bradley smiled. Wait, what?

Bradley smiling

No, I'm not kidding. It's like watching the lesser-blocked bomb pop. Here's another angle:

Bradley smile

Feeling the need for vengeance after France's Jessica Houara-d'Hommeaux swung in a wide, befuddling cross for the second goal in the U.S. Women's 2-0 loss earlier that day, Il Generale did one better. His 27th minute corner kick sliced past the L.A. Galaxy's Jaime Penedo and caressed the net like a lover. Swish, amore mio! That's the closest thing in soccer to a three-pointer. It ought to have at least counted for one and a half.

Bradley's role in the midfield felt like it was back to normal, but his stoic, occasionally menacing persona was replaced by something like the grinning "aww, shucks" shrug Michael Jordan made famous in Game 1 of the '92 NBA Finals.

On this day, the hot-headed swagger Bradley tends to embody transferred to two of his teammates: Chris Wondolowski, who was constantly barking in the face of opposing fullback Leonel Parris to the delight of Jurgen Klinsmann, and Clint Dempsey, who was just not effing around that day.

Dempsey, who jumped on a sweet through-ball from the bright Gyasi Zardes and snuck one past Penedo following what can only be described as an "Old Man Step-over," eventually went primal and trucked an elbow-y Panamanian defender straight to the deck whilst awaiting a set piece delivery in the 21st minute. The referees were definitely not looking, but if they were listening, they likely would have heard him shout, "TRY TO QUESTION MY FITNESS NOW, FAM."

I have a theory about why Clint was mad. Last summer, rapper Lupe Fiasco, who traveled with the Men's National Team to the World Cup in Brazil, extended to the rhyme-spitting Deuce the opportunity to lay down a verse for his upcoming album. That album, the fantastic Tetsuo & Youth, finally came out two weeks ago. No Dempsey verse.

Well, the rap game is all about street cred, and the U.S. Men's captain dished out some poignant Panamanian punishment equivalent to about seven or eight 50 Cent gunshot wounds. As they say, get on the pitch or die tryin'.

Goodnight, sweet poacher prince
by Gabriel Luis Manga

Beating this Panama team in a friendly in LA felt a lot like finishing the Monday crossword. It's not an accomplishment, but you are happy that you can still do it. Michael Bradley played well, Dempsey showed the creativity and dynamism that we know and love, and Gyasi Zardes has donned the crown of "Lanky young American forward that we can all get very excited about...oh God, don't get signed by a bottom three EPL club*".

It is these type of opportunities for young strikers like Zardes -- and NASL darling Miguel Ibarra -- and their competence, and even intrigue while on the pitch, that makes the invite to camp of Chris Wondolowski peculiar. Wondo's done a wonderful thing in turning his career as an MLS goal-poaching buccaneer, with a game that's not outwardly beautiful but devastatingly effective, into a World Cup and over twenty appearances for the Yanks. He's the American Miroslav Klose.

However, at 32, and with shanks like the one he executed in the second half (and more egregiously, against Belgium in the World Cup), he's not doing Jurgen's development process any benefit with his presence. As usual, the internet offered the hottest, and most on-point take:

It's not as if Klinsmann is wary of bringing in inexperienced young strikers, as Ibarra's inclusion in multiple games proves. So why bring in Wondo when Klinsmann could easily bring in other domestic-based young strikers? The New England Revolution strike partnership of Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo come to mind, but there's another Revolution striker whose absence America will likely rue: Diego Fagundez.

Only 19, Fagundez is already an MLS star. Entering last season, Fagundez was already tied for 10th all-time on the Revs career scoring chart with 17 goals; he added another five last season, to go along with four assists. Sounds amazing, right? Can you imagine Fagundez paired up top with Jozy Altidore?

It'll have to stay that way. You see, Fagundez played for Uruguay in the CONMEBOL U-20 qualifiers last month, and despite having lived in Leominster, MA since he was five years old, he will never suit up for any U.S. national team because:

  • The South American Youth Championships serve as CONEMBOL's Olympic qualification tournament, thus making them competitive matches, not "friendly" ones. Thus, Fagundez is "cap tied" going forward.
  • Fagundez is not yet an American citizen (and won't be until 2018) so he will not be able to make the one-time switch that FIFA allow's players who are eligible for more than one nation. Or in plain English, while Fagundez is an American resident (he has a green card) he is not a citizen and therefore there is no second nation for him to switch to, there is no "second" country.

Now, we can wail and gnash our teeth, but Fagundez is no Giuseppe Rossi. Just last month, Fagundez made it clear that neither Klinsmann, Ramos, or anyone else involved with the USMNT, had been in touch with him about his future playing for the red, white, and blue. It was also clear that Fagundez was both hurt and confused by getting the could shoulder- and who could blame him?

Meanwhile, Julian Green -- whom U.S. soccer fans spent the better part of a year losing sleep and sanity over -- can't buy a game at HSV Hamburg, despite being loaned there for that purpose. It's clear that he'll be loaned out again by Bayern next year, but he's 20 already, and absent playing time, it's unclear how much more he'll develop, if at all.

It makes one wonder whether the invite that went to Wondolowski might've been better spent on Fagundez. Regardless: it's time to say goodnight, Wondo. Let's bring on more, younger strikers.

Eventually we'll get one that sticks, right? *nods, watches Joshua Perez highlights over and over*

What next?
by Raf Noboa y Rivera

So: we beat Panama.

That's great. It's always good to win. The U.S. was mired in a winless schneid, and Panama -- a program we've always run roughshod -- was a good opponent to get back in the winning track.

Then again: it's Panama. We're supposed to beat Panama. Some of the chest-beating this morning resembles the triumphalism that Chris Rock destroyed in a famous monologue: you don't get credit for doing what you're supposed to do.

So let's leave Panama behind. One of the fundamental paradoxes of Klinsmann's reign is that, for all the talk of progress and vision, he's perfectly willing to sacrifice that purported vision on the altar of pragmatism. With yet another loss on the books, with criticism mounting all around, Klinsmann ditched a 3-5-2 formation that was being received with uncertainty, and used a 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 formation that the players in camp were very familiar with.

The result? A composed, even bold, performance that was easily our best in a long, long time. Bradley's olímpico will, deservedly, get all the plaudits. But it was the buildup to the second goal that should be the takeaway. Created by Gyasi Zardes, it was the kind of vintage counter-attacking goal that's instantly familiar to anyone who's followed the USMNT for any period of time prior to 2011. A lethal, quick, whip-stinging counter-attack that literally left Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo pawing futilely at the air, and Dempsey to casually, softly poke the goal home.

It was a back-breaker. Panama never seemed to threaten the U.S. after that.

That, right there, was the United States at its best. The question remains, though: what now? Does Klinsmann go back to experimenting, now that the pressure seems to have temporarily receded? Or does he stick wth this going forward? That's the question, and yesterday's game gave no answer to that.