MLS report card vs. Panama

and astounding 11 in total -- which destroyed several potential goal-scoring opportunities for the canaleros. Much of that credit has to go to Pope, who made his 30th appearance in a World Cup qualifier for the U.S. and therefore is now tied with Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart for the all-time lead.

The only negative for the Real Salt Lake center back was the fact that he received a yellow card in the 10th minute for a hard tackle on speedster Ricardo Phillips. Since it was the second one he has picked up in this final round of qualifying, he'll have to sit out the next qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago on Aug. 17.

Overall grade: B+

Frankie Hejduk, Columbus Crew: Resumed his role from the 2002 World Cup as the team's left back. His speed and tenacity made him a must selection to play against Panama, whether he was to play on the right and on the left. Since the U.S. got up early and it wasn't imperative for him to get forward, Hejduk stayed home more than usual. But when he needed to, his left foot didn't fail him on crosses, despite not playing on his preferred side.

With the way Steve Cherundolo has been playing on the right side, having Hejduk on the left might just be the best option for the U.S., depending on what Arena's plans are for Bocanegra. (Is he going to stay as a center back or play as a left back when either Cory Gibbs or Oguchi Onyewu is available?)

Overall grade: B+

Steve Ralston, New England Revolution: You must hand it to the 30-year-old winger: He's been doing just enough to hold onto that starting spot on the right flank for Arena. Going 90 minutes against Panama marked his fourth consecutive start, which is a career high for any of the six different years he's played with the national team.

Playing out wide in a five-man midfield, Ralston's role was similar to the one he enjoys with the Revolution. In reality, it's probably the one best suited for him, as well, since the wider he is allowed to play, the better. With three centralized players, he's allowed to do that more often.

One of his jobs on Wednesday night was to track back against the clever Julio Medina. For the most part, the St. Louis native was up to the task.

Ralston's aforementioned assist is exactly the reason that Arena and his staff have given the 10-year veteran of MLS a bit of a renaissance since turning 30, as all five of his starts in World Cup qualifiers have come since getting the nod against Jamaica last November. Even if he provides just one or two quality crosses into the box per match, Ralston's serves usually are right on the mark with just the right amount of weight and bend. In short, he's the right-sided version of Eddie Lewis.

Overall grade: B

Pat Noonan, New England Revolution: Showed his versatility once again by starting as the team's left-sided midfielder. In a rugged match like the one that ensued down at Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Noonan is never a bad choice, as the Revs striker is never afraid to mix it up or use his surprisingly-strong 6-foot frame to hold off defenders and aid him in winning balls.

Noonan's night was more about his defensive presence on the left side than what he added to the attack.

Overall grade: B-

Kerry Zavagnin, Kansas City Wizards: Not a bad performance, but not one that anyone will glamorize, either. Won some balls, of course, but definitely didn't command his part of the field. Since he wasn't carrying a yellow card into the match, it might not have been a bad idea for him to have acted as more of an enforcer at times against Panama, since off-the-ball fouls and late tackles were occurring all over the field as the match wore on. Zavagnin, himself, felt the blunt of this during the latter stages of the match when he took a knock on the head by one of the Panamanian players running back on defense.

Overall, the 30-year-old holding midfielder did well for himself over the three-game stint during the past 2 1/2 weeks. It's very likely that he'll remain as the third man on the depth chart behind Claudio Reyna and Pablo Mastroeni in his role, so each remaining qualifier and the upcoming Gold Cup in July will be important for him as the 2006 World Cup represents probably the only chance he'll have to get there.

Overall grade: C+

Clint Dempsey, New England Revolution: The 22-year-old got a decent chunk of time as the team's first substitute. Coming on in the 63rd minute for Beasley, Dempsey was situated in the same sort of role he excels in for the Revolution as one of three central midfielders.

The usual magic that follows Dempsey wasn't there against Panama, but his team had a three-goal cushion when he entered the match, so it was not important for him to get forward and do what he does best. Instead, he mostly defended, and helped the U.S. kill the game against a frustrated group of Panamanian players that became increasingly chippy. Dempsey was fortunate to escape the match without an injury, considering that the takedown tackle put on him by Gabriel Gomez should have been worthy of a red card, as his vicious slide knocked both of the 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year's legs out from under him during the 88th minute when the game was far from over.

Overall grade: B

Marc Connolly writes for and several other publications. Marc can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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