The US men’s national team started off its 2012 schedule on an up note, grabbing a dramatic 1-0 victory over Venezuela in Arizona last weekend thanks to Ricardo Clark’s 97th-minute header. On Wednesday, the squad will be nearly 3,000 miles away for their second friendly of the year against CONCACAF rivals Panama (8:30 ET, ESPN3, Galavisión) at the Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City.
The win over Venezuela puts the US’ record under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann at three wins, one draw and four losses.
The Yanks’ last outing against La Marea Roja came just last summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals. Clint Dempsey’s 76th-minute strike proved to be the difference in a 1-0 victory at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The result was far from guaranteed. Less than two weeks prior, Panama had taken a 2-1 win over the US in the Gold Cup group stages, the Americans’ first ever in that stage of the tournament.
On a night when four players earned their first cap for the national team – A.J. DeLaGarza, Bill Hamid, C.J. Sapong and Graham Zusi – it was a veteran that provided the result. Coming on as a substitute for Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz in the 62nd minute, Clark was earning his first cap in nearly two years, his last outing a now-infamous performance against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup when he was subbed off in the first half.
January, however, has traditionally been a time for new blood and old alike to prove itself on the national team. For San Jose Earthquakes hitman Chris Wondolowski, there may be even greater urgency to prove his worth to Klinsmann against Panama. Like Clark, Wondo’s last stint with the Yanks was a disappointment, not least because of an egregious miss to potentially tie the game against Panama in the group stage. After finding a few good chances against Venezuela, Wondo may get his shot at redemption on Wednesday.
And an energized strike force will be much needed. Clark’s goal overshadowed a night that saw good midfield play lead to several US chances, only for them to go wanting. The US took 19 shots against Venezuela, but only four found their way on target. Klinsmann’s teams have been criticized for a lack of offensive production since he took the helm; Clark’s goal was the team’s sixth in eight games under the new coach, half of those tallies coming in a 3-2 win over Slovenia.
Clark and Wondolowski were not the only returnees to the national team, as Benny Feilhaber also found himself in the lineup for the first time since Klinsmann took over. Along with national team newcomers Brek Shea and Zusi, Feilhaber’s play in attacking midfield gave the US nearly 60 percent of possession.
Meanwhile, the defense, featuring MLSers DeLaGarza, Geoff Cameron and Heath Pearce, put in a solid performance to limit Venezuela to six shots – none on target – and give goalkeeper Hamid his first shutout with his first senior cap. With another showing like that against Panama, and they will make a strong case for more playing time on a backline that has been searching for stability recently.
Last Saturday’s match leaves the Seattle Sounders’ Jeff Parke as the only uncapped player on the US' January camp roster.
Wednesday’s matchup is not an official FIFA date, limiting Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdés’ choices for selection. Only four overseas players were called into camp for Los Canaleros, and only two of those players – FC Dallas’ Blas Pérez and the Philadelphia Union’s Gabriel Gómez – are regularly featured in the squad.
The game against the USMNT, however, is providing a chance for Valdés to work out players on the U-23 national team, who are preparing for the CONCACAF Olympic qualification tournament at the end of March.
The senior team, meanwhile, have stormed through World Cup qualifiers so far, winning all four of their games in their second round group that included Nicaragua and Dominica with a goal differential of plus-13.
Panama also impressed in their last friendly, a 2-0 win over perennial CONCACAF contenders Costa Rica, with both Gómez and Pérez on target. But another strong result, though undoubtedly welcome, is hardly the most important thing to Valdés.
“The most important thing about the game against the United States is that we can see and correct things," Valdés told UnivisionNoticias.com.
Players to Watch
USA – Ricardo Clark. Klinsmann has been partial to a 4-2-3-1 formation since taking the reins with the US. The Yanks have impressive depth at holding midfielder, but with another strong performance Clark could make a solid case for consideration in the German’s system.
PAN – Blas Pérez. Venezuela’s attack did little to test the US defense, but they’re dealing with an entirely different animal in FC Dallas' trophy signing. The 6-foot-1 striker bagged 19 goals in 23 starts with Léon in Mexico’s second division in his last full season, and he’ll likely be a handful for the back line.
USA: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake); Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland/Denmark), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Jeff Parke (Seattle Sounders); Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt/Germany), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04/Germany), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders); Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Panama: Luis Mejía (Fénix/Uruguay), Kevin Melgar (Alianza FC/Panama), Carlos Rodríguez (FC Dallas), Sergio Thompson (Sporting SM/Panama), Éric Vásquez (Chorrillo FC/Panama), Eduardo Dasent (Tauro FC/Panama), Rolando Algandona (San Francisco FC/Panama), Edward Benítez (Sporting SM/Panama), Luis Ovalle (Sporting SM/Panama), Amir Waithe (San Francisco FC/Panama), Marcos Sánchez (Tauro FC/Panama), Gabriel Gómez (Philadelphia Union), Juan de Gracia (Chepo FC/Panama), Alberto Quintero (Chorrillo FC, Panama), Blas Pérez (FC Dallas), Manuel Mosquera (Árabe Unido/Panama), Luis Rentería (Tauro FC/Panama)