The U.S. got it done in Orlando Friday night with a stress relieving 4-0 win over Panama. Here are five things that we either learned or were crystallized in our minds from the match.
The U.S. have a 93 percent chance of playing in Russia next summer
According to the ESPN Soccer Power Index the U.S. has never been closer to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. There’s still work to be done as Panama could easily earn three points in their next match, but U.S. fans can officially start dreaming of the draw that will take place December 1st. Still this run should be sobering for U.S. Soccer. Hopefully the fact that the U.S. can most likely only reach third place will be enough to light a fire under the Federation to make changes necessary to bring the team back to dominant in CONCACAF (heck, we were hoping for more progress this cycle, weren’t we?)
A physical USMNT is the best USMNT
The U.S. was soft during the last international weekend in which they were fortunate to earn one point. The team looked like they didn’t want to deal with the bodies being thrown at them and it showed. Against Panama they absolutely matched the Panamanian physicality while keeping it clean. Even though the U.S. outpaced Panama in fouls sixteen to eleven they picked up no yellow cards and all players are eligible for the final game in Trinidad. The U.S. will have a size advantage in almost any game they play and it’s imperative they use that advantage each time they have it. The U.S. can’t dance around anyone, especially in CONCACAF.
The U.S. will go as far as Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic will take them in Russia
Assuming the U.S. closes the last seven percent and gets to Russia, the U.S. will lean almost entirely on those two players for success. The biggest games on the biggest stage are decided by difference makers and the U.S. have two. Bobby Wood’s flick header sprung the break on the opening goal and his beating of three defenders into the box led to the third goal. He also found himself alone in the box and calmly finished the fourth goal. Meanwhile Christian Pulisic needs no more accolades as his speed and composure on the ball can break a game in an instant, and that’s exactly what he did. The question that remains is how much more can he develop by next summer?
The defense still needs work
The stats belie the truth in this one. Panama mustered just two shots on goal but in the first half they had chances that a World Cup team puts away. The game was choppy early with the U.S. perhaps too aggressive, and the defense was fortunate. I don’t think anyone wants to see the pair of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez starting in Russia and DeAndre Yedlin is just rounding back into form, so there’s still time, but they didn’t look like a Bruce Arena defense. The second half was significantly better but by then the game was no match.
The U.S. roller coaster continues
The U.S. can absolutely pound teams as they did against Panama, or in the 6-0 drubbing of Honduras in March. They can also scrap out difficult draws like the rare one against Mexico. But they are also capable of crap like their 1-1 draw in Honduras and the three losses to Costa Rica and Mexico in the Hex. While it’s great to see the U.S. come up huge in games they absolutely must have, they have to be aware that an absolute clunker might not be far away. This team has very little margin for error.
Now off to Tuesday where hopefully we learn that the U.S. has advanced to Russia.