Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Panama didn’t win them any style points. But the US national team believe their World Cup qualifying campaign is “back on track” after they earned four points from the two CONCACAF Hexagonal matches of the past week, turning the page on their 0-2 start to the Hex.
“We wanted to creep up the table, and I think we did that these past 10 days,” defender Omar Gonzalez told reporters after the ragged stalemate at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City. “I think we can be very happy with these past two games.
“We showed a lot more spirit, we showed a lot more camaraderie. We showed a team spirit that maybe we haven’t seen in a long time. I think we can build off this.”
The US squandered a lead against Panama, with Clint Dempsey’s opener cancelled out by a Gabriel Gomez strike just four minutes later. But the result fulfills the CONCACAF qualifying truism of “win at home, draw on the road,” especially for a Yanks side that has been racked by injuries over the past few weeks.
Like the USMNT, Panama were hungry to climb out of the bottom half of the Hex standings and were roared on by a passionate home crowd. A bumpy pitch and muggy tropical conditions further complicated the task.
“It was a matter of being switched on and not giving away silly fouls. They’re a pretty good team, so they make it difficult for you, particularly at home,” said USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard. “Four points from two games is fine, to get us back on track.”
There would be no repeat of Friday’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras for the US, as Los Canaleros brought a muscular, physical edge to the encounter – but failed to seize on several chances to take the lead despite some uncertain defending by the visitors.
“From what I remember about CONCACAF qualifying, it hasn’t changed a whole lot in 12 years,” said Yanks boss Bruce Arena, in a reference to his first stint in charge of the program, from 1998-2006. “It’s just a battle. The referee wasn’t going to call too many fouls. It was a slugfest for 90 minutes.”