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USA U-23's vs. Panama: Final score 4-0, Second half onslaught keeps the U.S. perfect

Group winners. Yawn. Now it gets serious.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The United States under-23 national team finished off group play tonight with another lopsided win. They dominated Panama in the second half after a lackluster first 45 minutes to win, 4-0. They win the group easily and advance to the semifinals on Saturday.

USA Lineup

What happened

A tepid opening five minutes of the game turned into an up and down track meet soon after. The first big chance fell to U.S. striker Maki Tall, who found his way in on goal only to have his shot punched away. The rebound fell in the path of an oncoming Gedion Zelalem, who had his shot tipped over the bar by a fine save.

Panama had several attacking forays into the American's box before the 20-minute mark, but nothing to write home about. Ethan Horvath was forced into his first save of the game in the 23rd minute from a sharp angle shot. They were clearly the side with more to gain from this game as they took it to the U.S. for the better part of the opening half hour.

The game slowed down significantly after the 30-minute mark with both teams content to play it around the midfield without a threat to either goal.

A scary moment in the 40th minute when Tall was running full-stride toward goal and was tripped. He fell shoulder first into an opponent's leg and had to be helped off the field. Thankfully he was okay to continue after some treatment.

The U.S. had one final chance before halftime as Alonso Hernandez headed on a long ball into the path of Gboly Ariyibi. The long-legged American winger took it in stride, but his tight angle shot never had hopes of hitting the target. The teams entered the break scoreless.

Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter, the starting strikers in the first two games, came off the bench at halftime to bolster the U.S. attack. They replaced Tall and Zelalem.

It took all of five minutes for the new look American attack to pay dividends. Some nifty flank play up the left side by Ariyibi, resulted in a cross whipped in front of goal which was deflected in by a Panama defender for an own goal.

The U.S. doubled their lead just two minutes later when Ariyibi found more space, cut inside, passed to Morris, who laid it off to Luis Gil, who played in Kiesewetter. The Stuttgart man hammed home the finish low and hard to the far post for his third goal of the tournament.

Not to be outdone, Morris would tack on his third of the tournament just three minutes after that to make it 3-0. Kiesewetter played provided this time and found the Stanford Cardinal striker in front for an easy tap-in.

The U.S. would have a chance to go four goals clear in the 71 minute as more good work from Kiesewetter drew a penalty. Gil stepped up and finished the spot kick with a little lucky deflection off the keeper's gloves to turn the game into a laugher.

The game finished 4-0 with nothing of note happening in the last 20 minutes. The U.S win all three group games easily.

Quick Thoughts

  • The U.S. made easy work of their group. On paper it appeared that they should have, but CONCACAF is rarely that cut and dry. Thankfully the team came prepared and took care of business.
  • The additions of Kiesewetter and Morris up top at halftime changed the dynamics of the game and gave the American a clear advantage. They have developed a chemistry that is hard to teach and it's fun to watch.
  • Perhaps the biggest question mark ahead of the vital semifinal game on Saturday is who will start in goal. Will it be Zack Steffen who started the first two games and had a sublime U-20 World Cup? Or will it be Horvath who has been in unbelievable form for his club, has the experience advantage, and played fine in the third game? You really can't go wrong with either choice.
  • Zelalem was pulled at halftime and didn't really make an impact in his 45 minutes. Perhaps it's a little too early to crown him king just yet.
The U-23's head to the semifinals on Saturday. They will play the loser of Honduras vs. Mexico who play tomorrow. Game time is at 3 p.m. ET and it will be televised on Telemundo. If they win they qualify for the Olympics. If they lose they advance to the third place game that decides who goes on to play Colombia for a trip to Rio.