As strange as it may sound to anyone who missed it, the US national team scored a 1-0 victory with 10 men at Panama on Wednesday and it managed to be a rather unsatisfying experience.
Safety tactics were hauled out of the storage closet (for some reason) and the team responded with a bland, disjointed effort. In truth, the result easily could have been ruined by the one Panama player that looked interested in a game, fresh FC Dallas recruit Blas Pérez.
Gosh, isn't it great that we've risen to a level where road wins are ripe for criticism?
Nick Rimando (7) - In his half of action the Real Salt Lake backstop made a pair of absolutely terrific saves to preserve the early lead. To be fair, Rimando also got away with a clumsy rush off his line.
A.J DeLaGarza (3.5) - What looked steady on the weekend turned more timid against Panama. On various occasions, he was either being pulled out, turned, stripped or charged with an earned yellow card.
Michael Parkhurst (4.5) - It was also a step backwards for the FC Nordsjælland handyman, who twice let a cross from the far side get over his head. Parkhurst settled for a spell in mid-match, then had a couple of late problems.
Geoff Cameron (3.5) - As for the red card, he essentially begged to be sent off, even if Pérez made a meal of the contact. Before that, Cameron reacted to some difficult situations at the back with varying success, but never had everything under control.
Zach Loyd (4) - The cross which led to the goal saves his 41-minute grade ... if you wish to call that saving. Like DeLaGarza, Loyd was pulled all about like taffy and deservedly went into the ref's book.
Ricardo Clark (4) - Oddly, the veteran never seemed sure of what to do out there tonight. On the rare occasion when he thought positively with the ball, the effect was temporary enough to not trouble Panama. He did apply a little more positional resistance than his partner, though.
Jermaine Jones (4.5) - On the plus side, the captain offered some nice transition work. On the minus side, he had some poorly placed giveaways and failed to make timely decisions going forward. Of course, he wandered from protecting the back and was carded. All in all, probably the showing you'd expect when Jones is asked to handle the ball too much.
Graham Zusi (6) - Other than his calmly taken goal, the Sporting KC man again fell short of having much impact even though it looks like he wants to. Perhaps it would have been better to play him centrally behind the strikers?
Brek Shea (5) - If it were just for his work across midfield, this grade would be a good bit lower; Shea never seemed to have a plan in attack. However, the FC Dallas star made two strong corner kick clearances and provided a lot of defensive support to the struggling Loyd. Protecting a one-goal lead away, that counts for something.
Chris Wondolowski (5) - His physical effort aided the goal play along and he was cruelly denied a first USMNT goal just past the half-hour. Still, for a guy who usually wows with his runs off the ball, Wondo was unable to connect with the midfielders coming forward in his 54 minutes.
Teal Bunbury (4) - Other than a slight touch assist we'll give him the benefit of doubt on, it was a largely negative outing for the youngster. His control was definitely off on a night it was needed. It's not necessarily a bad thing against him, but it seems Bunbury may be in the wrong camp for right now.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (2) - You've probably detected a theme of steps taken backwards, and now we punish the source. First off, one really has to wonder why the controlling 4-3-3 game plan that held 60% possession with no shots on goal against on Saturday night had to be scrapped for the dang ol' "empty bucket" in a friendly against CONCACAF opposition. Weren't we done with such things?
This time, the US held just 48 percent of the ball against a largely U-23 Panama team that looked like they were barely trying. There was no great organization or intent out there, just an early goal to back into the garage and what amounts to a most displeasing away victory.
Heath Pearce (6) - The Chivas USA defender came on to settle things and that move definitely worked for Klinsmann. In addition to the noticeable field tilt he usually provides, it was also good to see Pearce barking instructions to the newbies. One time, though, he may have got caught teaching were it not for a heavy Panama lead pass to the corner.
Sean Johnson (6) - Not given a great deal to do in the second half, the Chicago Fire No. 1 responded well when necessary. Johnson had one comfy save and aggressively snared a long cross.
Jeff Parke (5) - Until the major late gaffe put his side in danger, the debutant communicated fairly well those around him. Like everyone, he had some issues with Pérez, but Parke generally moved the ball safely and made one strong clearance.
Jeff Larentowicz (5.5) - If the Colorado Rapids midfielder was brought on to provide safe if unspectacular passage for possession and positional integrity, then consider him a decent success.
Brad Evans (6) - See Larentowicz, then tack on a few nice instances of time-killing pressure valve work on the ball.
C.J. Sapong (6) - A quarter-hour isn't always enough for a grade, but the Sporting KC striker was among the few players demonstrating a clear idea of his role. I want to see more, and with the "A" squad.