U.S. caps qualifying by beating Panama

D.C. United's Brian Carroll and the Chicago Fire's Justin Mapp -- made their international debut Wednesday, as did substitute Ricardo Clark of the San Jose Earthquakes, and the average age of the starting lineup was about 23.

That youth seemed to show in the opening minutes, as the Red, White and Blue looked uneasy in the early going. In just the fifth minute, Panamanian midfielder James Brown intercepted an errant pass in the U.S. defensive third and fired a shot from 20 yards out that forced a diving save from 'keeper Tim Howard.

But the home side settled down and took control of the game as clock ticked past the quarter-hour. D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta, who has been on the rise in the national team picture in recent months, sent a cross in to Clint Dempsey. The New England Revolution midfielder couldn't maintain control as he tried to head the ball down to himself, and after chasing down his errant touch, he could only fire a shot into the chest of Panama 'keeper Jaime Penedo.

Quaranta continued to show well with nearly perfect crosses later in the first half, but on one occasion in the 26th minute, a sliding defender cut out his service intended for Twellman, and in the 33rd, Twellman fanned on what would have been a tap-in of another Quaranta cross.

Martino finally made good on the USA's superiority six minutes into the second half, slamming a first-time shot off the near post and in after Los Angeles Galaxy defender Chris Albright lobbed the ball into the box for him. It was the first goal in seven international appearances for the former MLS Rookie of the Year.

A further six minutes later, Twellman finally opened his international count after a wait of 13 matches. Twice in the last two months, Twellman thought he had broken through only to see apparent goals against Trinidad & Tobago (Aug. 17) and Costa Rica (Oct. 8) called back for offside. There was no doubt about his goal this time, though, as he beat Penedo to a Danny Califf long ball that had been deflected by a Panama defender, chested past the 'keeper and slotted home.

Howard had little to do for much of the match. He was called into service with 25 minutes to go to beat Jorge Dely Valdes to a free ball in the box and push it away from the former Colorado Rapids striker, and in the 87th minute, he got some help from Dely Valdes in keeping the clean sheet, the Panamanian firing a penalty kick wide after San Jose Earthquakes forward Brian Ching handled the ball in the box.

Combined with Mexico's 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday -- a result which sent T&T into a playoff with Bahrain for a first-ever ticket to the World Cup finals, and eliminated Guatemala -- the USA finished tied atop the final hexagonal in CONCACAF with 22 points, though Mexico had a better goal difference.

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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