Gold Cup commentary: US down, but certainly not out
Maybe the United States national team shouldn't play on Saturdays anymore.
Exactly a week after getting obliterated by Spain, the US fell to Panama in their second Gold Cup match. The 2-1 loss was the first time an American side had lost in the group stage of the tournament, and the result presents an opportunity to once again lament the state of the Stars and Stripes.
Which, once again, is ridiculous.
Saturday night's effort in Tampa was bad, perhaps even embarrassing. It showcased the Americans' worst tendencies — slow starts, spotty finishing, the inability to capitalize on superior talent — and the score line was deserved because of the terrible first half. In fact, that the comeback fell short despite many quality chances is fitting; Bradley's gang didn't deserve a point after that display.
But the end of the world this is not.
As Alexi Lalas tweeted after the match, "Just walked outside and the sky is still in place." Win on Tuesday against a feisty but overmatched Guadeloupe team and the Americans are through to the quarterfinals. Better, they could avoid Mexico until the final.
The scenario that we expected to play out before the tournament started is still very much intact: The Red, White and Blue vs. El Tri in the Rose Bowl on June 25.
Now, what to make of the Panama match? Here's the thing: Very quietly, this is a US squad in the midst of a transition. The team looks similar to the one that Bradley trotted out during the World Cup, but it's actually quite different. Between Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, Jermaine Jones and Juan Agudelo, the entire spine of the formation consists of players who didn't see time in South Africa. Three of those guys weren't on the roster, and two of them weren't even in the discussion.
Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo and the veteran players can help bring the new guys into the fold, but the unity on the field doesn't happen immediately. Should they be further along in the process? Perhaps, but Agudelo and Ream especially are new to the entire process.
But this isn't a tactical issue; it's an issue of starting games. New players, old problems. The solution is for the American team to come together and just get it done.
Perhaps, then, the awful loss to Panama will serve as the match that finally makes the US stop taking their talent for granted, and stops this squad from needing to come from behind. Playing with a lead is fun, fellas; you learned that against Canada. Now do it again.
After the loss in Florida, the players were appropriately contrite. Landon Donovan spoke for all of them.
"We're still fine," he said. "We just gotta make sure we learn some lessons from tonight."
It's rhetoric we've heard before, but it's true. So learn the lessons and move on. The Americans are where they need to be.
Break it down: A win in their final group stage match guarantees the Red, White and Blue play their quarterfinal match on June 19.
And that — thank your stars and stripes — is a Sunday.