U.S. 1, Panama 0: Highlights and Positives (Yes, There Were Positives)

The U.S. got a ninth-minute goal from Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi, then hung on after a 51st-minute red card to Houston defender Geoff Cameron for a 1-0 win over Panama in an international friendly last night in Panama City.

It was not a match that anyone will point to as an example of the Beautiful Game, and the U.S. looked completely lost during the last 15-20 minutes of the first half, but they responded well after going down to 10 men and can take some encouragement home from Central America.

More on that after the highlights:

The primary benefit of last night’s match was that it gave the U.S. team—as well as the Yank coaching staff—a taste of what World Cup qualifying will be like on the road in CONCACAF.

As Alexi Lalas tweeted soon after Cameron’s debatable red card: “That’s exactly type of red card that we’ll see in qualifying.”

Down to 10 men in an unfamiliar (if not exactly hostile) environment, the U.S. made some adjustments and concentrated on killing the game with extended spells of possession. And they succeeded. They held on, knocked the ball around very well at times, and saw out the 1-0 result.

“The way we executed in the last half-hour, especially technically, was very good,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference. “The red card changes the strategy and prevents us from bringing on another forward and continuing to push forward, but overall, I think the team adapted well.”

Captain Jermaine Jones seconded Klinsmann’s notion: “It’s a young team and I think we can really learn from these types of games. They can learn how to go the right speed, how to slow it down. These are tough games and I think it really helps to get the feel.”

One observer said something to the effect of, “Sure it’s a lesson for CONCACAF qualifying, but how many of the guys in last night’s game will actually take part in CONCACAF qualifying?”

Seems like a fair question, but it’s hollow for at least three reasons:

1. Last night’s game and the one against Venezuela were about deepening the U.S. player pool, and adding depth and competition for places to the side, not about, Who can make the team?

2. That said, several players from last night are likely to be in WCQ, such as Jones, Brek Shea, and Heath Pearce. And several more should be standing by, at the very least, including Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron, Teal Bunbury, Chris Wondolowski, CJ Sapong and Nick Rimando.

3. The experience benefited the coaches, none of whom have taken part in CONCACAF qualifying before, as much as the players.

As for the bubble players mentioned above, let’s start from the back:

• Nick Rimando showed he’s a viable option in a tough spot. If Tim Howard and/or Brad Guzan picked up an injury during qualifying, we’d feel confident that Rimando would step in capably. He had a great first half before giving way to Sean Johnson and his James Earl Jones voice.

• The U.S. centerback situation is far from settled, and the current first-choice guys are all aging. They may be in the mix for early qualifying, but if they’re the starters come Brazil 2014, then the U.S. is in trouble. Ergo, Klinsmann needs to blood guys coming up behind them. Cameron didn’t play as well last night as he did against Venezuela, but he needs to be in the mix. Parkhurst is not physically imposing, but he’s a steady central defender, even if his performance dropped off slightly last night, too.

Pearce could win the perennially problematic left back spot by default.

(Related: Why was Zach Loyd subbed out in the 41st minute? Was he hurt? If it was because he got beat several times (and carded) in the first half, then…ouch. By not waiting four minutes till halftime, Klinsmann sent a message. An embarrassing one.)

• Up top, Wondolowski continues to be snakebit: Panama keeper Luis Mejia denied his header with a spectacular save, the second straight game Wondo’s been robbed of a goal.

Bunbury was mostly useless—a fact that only threw into sharp relief the solid cameo by Sapong. The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year came on for the last 15 minutes and did exactly what was needed: We counted three occasions when he held the ball under heavy pressure, using his skill and athleticism to keep possession for the U.S. in crucial spots. We’d say he earned another look (at least) from Klinsmann, and why not with the first-choice team?

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