HOUSTON — After a sluggish start Wednesday night, US head coach Bob Bradley continued his run of hitting the right notes.
In a game where the team was unable to take an early advantage, Bradley & Co. benefitted from second-half subs — Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu provided energy and propelled the team to Gold Cup final with a 1-0 win over Panama at Reliant Stadium.
“It was a hard game … in the first half I thought in stretches we had a pretty good rhythm with the ball,” said US head coach Bob Bradley. “In the second half, it was a little bit harder and I think we did a good job keeping things tight and you have to find ways to win the game.”
As expected, Panama came out in a tight and organized formation and seemed intent to frustrate the US attack. Through the first 45 minutes, their strategy was working as the US were held to a single good chance — a header from Juan Agudelo that hit the crossbar — and just three total shots.
That’s when Bradley continued to show a creative attitude. After a surprise move not to include Donovan in the starting lineup, the LA Galaxy star entered after the half to give the team and initial pick-me-up.
“We talked as a team and felt that we had a good game against Jamaica and it made sense to build on that,” Bradley said. “[Donovan] had a great attitude about it and wanted to do what’s best for the team. It’s a great thing to know when he comes on the field he can make special play.”
Bradley wasn’t done there — 21 minutes into the second half, he made a second gutsy move in inserting Adu for his first action of the tournament. The moves paid off in spades. Both players injected life and movement into the US attack and found spaces behind the Panama defense.
The US tactician’s moves provided the ultimate payoff in the 77th minute when Adu and Donovan played key roles in the sequence that resulted in Clint Dempsey’s game winner.
With the substitutes combining to produce for the winning goal, Bradley once again has to be given credit for pulling the right strings. After the sluggish start, the payoff for the US feels all the sweeter and now the focus is on preparing for Saturday’s final.
“Any time a team decides to defend with 11 players, it’s going to be difficult to break them down,” said Steve Cherundolo. “We knew they were going to be organized and it was just a matter of time before we were able to break them down.”
Added fullback Eric Lichaj, “It was probably an ugly game for the supporters to watch, but we still came out with a win and good teams know how to win games like this.”
Darrell Lovell is a Houston-based beat writer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.