Sparked by surprise guest star Freddy Adu, the United States did just enough in Houston on Wednesday night to simultaneously exact Panama revenge and punch their Gold Cup final ticket. Here are our player ratings:
Tim Howard (7) - While the netminder could have set his feet up with a lemonade on the porch for most of the first hour, Howard made a fine fingertip save, an authoritative corner-kick punch and then a more comfortable save over the final 20 minutes.
Steve Cherundolo (6) - Stevie Wonder had an up-down-up match. His field tilt and crossing made Panama work in the first half, but they did get loose at the other end a few times after the break. After allowing Armando Cooper to fire on Howard at the 70-minute mark, Cherundolo made a couple of important area challenges on bigger players to help preserve the shutout.
Clarence Goodson (5) - The big man was not as dominant in the air as usual and he got dime-spun once before giving away a danger free kick on the side of the box. On the plus side, Goodson's positioning was strong all night.
Carlos Bocanegra (6) - Though the captain whiffed on one curled cross in the second half, he spent most of the game in the shirt of whichever Panama attacker wandered his way. Bocanegra also made a strong late area challenge to cover for Goodson. He's not marked off here for the yellow card, which would have been harsh as a mere foul.
Eric Lichaj (5.5) - There was only limited success from his flank surges, with the off-side left back getting caught up a few times. Lichaj also had his pocket picked on the wing late, but did manage to make a handful of nice defensive plays through the night.
Michael Bradley (5.5) - The traffic director did his usual fine job in that area, but never really offered an incisive push in the final third. Bradley did expertly help the team transition toward midfield on the winning rush. After the goal, though, he had a couple of lackadaisical moments on the ball. In particular, the 'Gladbach window item should have done more with Adu's late cutback.
Jermaine Jones (5.5) - Alternating good plays with bad, Jones managed to help the team out of and through pressure at several key moments. As is customary, Jones drew some whistles with over-exuberance and he became much easier for Panama to play through in the final half hour.
Alejandro Bedoya (6.5) - Perhaps the best US player in the first half, Bedoya again ran his Energizer battery full power into every attack situation he could find. He also got back to pitch in a few defensive plays and combined with Bradley to play out of a tight spot for Adu on the goal play.
Sacha Kljestan (5) - The former Chivas USA man was far less sharp than on Sunday, with him often found a step slow near the ball over his 45 minutes.
Clint Dempsey (7) - Wearing US colors in his home state for the first time since February 2008, Deuce battled and battled until he was able to apply the fatal back post touch. The Texas Tornado also took a visible leadership role with Landon Donovan on the bench, often barking instruction to the greener attackers surrounding him.
Juan Agudelo (6) - Though he still neglects to involve his teammates on occasion, the young forward repeatedly forced Panama's center backs to work out of the middle. His run and snap on the header off the post were top shelf. It can also be said he was less than lucky on several referee calls.
Coach Bob Bradley (6) - Even if Donovan is nursing a knock, it was gutsy to leave him out of the lineup for this one. The team was even more patient than against Jamaica, though with less of a cutting edge. Defensively, their shape and pressure was generally smothering until the late going. The boss didn't hesitate to make the necessary changes and his two subs made the winning goal. The pink-slip talk may not die down after this one result, but Bob recognized the changes he need to make and executed them.
Landon Donovan (6) - The USMNT poster boy really seems to be favoring something, perhaps a groin bother or the like. I caught him sneaking in a few upper leg stretches, his restarts have lacked that usual bite lately and he seems reluctant to make sharp cuts to his right on the dribble. What did look like standard Donovan, of course, was the winning needle-threading assist.
Freddy Adu (7) - Welcome back, old friend. Shortly after entering, it was Adu's lead diagonal ball that finally unlocked Panama. After the goal, he was quite effective at running down the clock.