PANAMA CITY, Panama – On a balmy night in Panama's capital, uncharacteristically perfect for fútbol, Jurgen Klinsmann got exactly what he wanted for his young team: a heaping dose of adversity.
The young American team scored early, got a pair of great goalkeeping performances from veteran Nick Rimando and young apprentice Sean Johnson and stonewalled a game Panamanian host in a 1-0 win at Estadio Rommel Fernández despite going down to 10 men in the second half.
The US looked a bit shaky from the opening whistle on unfamiliar ground, but started on the right foot when Sporting Kansas City winger Graham Zusi coolly hammered home in the ninth minute after a cross from the left wing deflected off club teammate Teal Bunbury into the middle of the box.
From there, it quickly became the Nick Rimando show, as the RSL 'keeper made a trio of spectacular first-half saves to keep the Americans out of trouble. The most impressive came in the 26th minute when ex-MLSer Luis Renteria got behind the right side of the defense, and the Real Salt Lake 'keeper came up big by stoning him one on one.
The Americans controlled much of the possession in the opening frame, and they nearly got a second goal on a break in the 31st minute when captain Jermaine Jones drove a laser at Luis Mejía. The netminder’s parry flew up in the air, where San Jose's Chris Wondolowski sliced in and headed it on goal, only for the Panamanian to follow with a diving save.
Then Rimando was called into duty again. After another point-blank save on a scramble in the box, the RSL man again came up huge in the 33rd minute when he came out off his line to clean a through ball, which ricocheted around the box before being cleared out of danger.
The US were on the break again soon after, with Jones leading a two-on-one which saw Zusi hauled down by a Panamanian defender. Jones took the advantage, but dribbled into trouble outside the 18, where the attack stalled.
Rimando had one more point-blank stop in him as the Red Tide continued to press for the equalizer, and getting behind the American wingbacks became a recurring theme as the first half drew to a close.
But things took a drastic turn for the US just seven minutes after the break. In the 52nd minute, new FC Dallas signee Blas Pérez got behind the American defense again on a through ball up the middle. Geoff Cameron contested and was whistled by Mexican referee Francisco Chacón, who sent the Houston Dynamo defender off with a straight red.
With the visitors down to 10 men, the game slowed sown considerably as Panama took more possession but had trouble figuring out what to do with it. The Canaleros attacked consistently but without precision, until a loose ball in the box found the right foot of Pérez as the clock ran down. But the veteran shot wide of second-half sub Johnson’s goal, and a header just wide at the death was the Panamanians' final chance to claim a share at home, despite a game effort.
The win marks Klinsmann’s third in a row as head coach, and the result is another signal of progress after a grueling January camp. The mostly inexperienced group now heads its separate ways to mixed reviews, after two narrow victories in two games to wrap camp. A very different team will convene in Italy next month to take on the 2006 World Cup champions in Genoa.
USA - Graham Zusi (Teal Bunbury), 9'
USA - Zach Loyd (caution), 14'
USA - Jermaine Jones (caution), 42'
USA - Geoff Cameron (sent off), 51'
USA - A.J. DeLaGarza (caution), 73'
USA: Nick Rimando (Sean Johnson 45'); A.J. DeLaGarza, Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron, Zach Loyd (Heath Pearce 41'); Ricardo Clark (Jeff Larentowicz 67'), Jermaine Jones (capt.), Graham Zusi (Brad Evans 66'), Brek Shea; Chris Wondolowski (Jeff Parke 55'), Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong 76').
Substitutes not used: Benny Feilhaber
Panama: Luis Mejía; Rolando Algandona; Eric Vásquez, Eduardo Dasent, Carlos Rodríguez; Gabriel Gómez (capt.) (Juan de García 92); Marcos Sánchez, Amir Waithe (Luis Ovalle 71’), Alberto Quintero (Rolando Botello 76’); Blas Pérez, Luis Rentería (Manuel Mosquera 74’).
Substitutes not used: Sergio Thompson, Kevin Melgar, Edward Benítez
Referee: Francisco Chacon (MEX)
Assistant Referees: Daniel Williamson (PAN), Gabriel Victoria (PAN)
Fourth Official: Roberto Moreno (PAN)
Weather: 77 degrees; partly sunny