Making his own debut at head coach, Greg Berhalter gave seven players their first caps for the United States national team tonight. Expectations were low, as evidenced by a crowd of about 6,000 people, but the youthful yanks were up to the task. With goals from Mihailovic, Zimmerman, & Ramirez the US shutout Panama by a final of 3-0.
The Americans got their first look on goal in the 7th minute. Jeremy Ebobisse whipped in a perfect ball from the left wing that found Gyasi Zardes just outside the six yard box. The striker was all alone but his header sailed way over the crossbar.
Another chance was missed in the 17th minute when Roldan received a nice pass from Michael Bradley and opted for a hopeful shot from 30 yards out. He had Baird and Zardes both making great runs in the box but he missed them - and the goal - falling over in the process.
Zardes was finding it difficult to get involved and failed to put home another good cross from Lovitz in the 38th minute. But the United States were starting to put on the pressure. It was just two minutes later they would open the scoring.
Corey Baird was enjoying a fine start to his international career and his hard work paid off when he linked up with Djordje Mihailovic, a fellow debutante, for the first goal of the evening. A fortunate bounce in the box put the ball right in Baird’s path who split two defenders to find Mihailovic for a one touch finish. The ball took a couple deflections on the way in, but it’s a goal the 20-year-old will never forget.
Panama was also playing with a very youthful squad and made three changes at halftime while Berhalter sent back out the same squad. The first fifteen minutes of the second half were slow until Roldan & Mihailovic connected for a flurry of chances.
Sebastian Lletget entered in the 62nd minute and immediately got in on the action. He did well to intercept a pass and find Zardes, who would then waste another chance on goal.
Panama only saw 34% of the possession this match but were not without chances of their own. Zach Steffan was forced into a very nice save from close range in the 55th minute and had another scare in the 71st. Ernesto Walker got fouled on the left flank and nearly headed home the ensuing free kick, but it went just wide right.
With ten minutes left in regulation, the US would finally double the lead. Man of the Match for the Yanks, Nick Lima, single-handedly created the goal by busting up what looked to be a dangerous counter attack from Panama. Lima sold out with a thunderous sliding tackle and came out of it with the ball at his feet and acres of space ahead. The right-back calmly let the play develop before picking out his man. He took another touch and curled in a beautiful ball for Walker Zimmerman to smash home with his head.
Zardes went 84 minutes before being relieved by Christian Ramirez, who got on the score-sheet just five minutes later. Jonathan Lewis had also recently come on as a sub and was causing problems for the Panama defense with his speed out on the left. Just before the end of regulation he squared up a defender at the corner of the box. All he needed was one slick touch with a burst of speed and he left his man in the dust. Lewis played the ball just out of reach for the keeper and Ramirez slotted it into the back of the net to cap off the 3-0 win.
It has been a long stretch of dark days for the United States and hopefully tonight can spark some sort of positivity. It was far from a perfect performance, but three goals and shutout is as good as you can ask for to start the Greg Berhalter era. Guys like Lima & MLS Rookie of the Year Corey Baird really made an impact with their debuts. Even Michael Bradley had solid performance. Berhalter and his team have a lot to build upon looking ahead to next Saturday against Costa Rica.