Armchair Analyst: A tactical preview of Panama vs. USMNT in Gold Cup group stage finale

Through 180 minutes the US have underwhelmed, but at least they are through to the Gold Cup quarterfinals, and will do so as the Group A winners no matter what happens tonight against Panama (9:30 pm ET; FoxSports 1, UniMas, UDN, Sportsnet World, Sportsnet 360).

Thus by typical Gold Cup standards, there is not a lot to play for.

However, by "Dear God, why can't we string more than two passes together?" standards, these are 90 minutes of lab work to figure out what's broken and how to fix it.

Here's a few things to expect:


What they'll do: Send the fullbacks forward

Panama can be adventurous when they're attacking. More adventurous than most other Central American teams, in fact, because they do a better job of holding onto the ball up top thanks to the work of Blas Perez. His ability to combine with the raft of roving attackers around him gives the rest of Los Canaleros time to get forward and create useful width.

It can often be fun to watch, if you can grit your teeth through the theatrics.

How to solve it: Hit 'em on the break

This is how you punish a team who pushes their fullbacks up:

Two things to bear in mind here, however. First is that Panama showed a shocking lack of respect for Haiti's ability on the counter in that game, something they won't do against the US. Second is that I'm not sure the US have a speed option on the right wing who can finish plays like that.

DeAndre Yedlin is the obvious "Yeah, but..." here, to which I'll say "Yeah, but he doesn't finish." Gyasi Zardes is also intriguing, though Jurgen Klinsmann has preferred to use him mostly on the left.

The wild card may be starting both of them in a 4-3-3 with Aron Johannsson as the center forward and giving Clint Dempsey the night off. Given the circumstances (and Clint's age), it's not the worst idea.


What they'll do: Overload central midfield

So we've seen two games for the US, and thus we've seen two US opponents swarm the bejesus out of Michael Bradley & Co in central midfield.

If our coaching staff is surprised by this tactic for the third straight game, we should all give up beer and switch to the hard stuff.

How to solve it: Adjust your distribution points

Adding Alejandro Bedoya, who is smart about finding space and is good at holding the ball, can help a bit. Switching to a 4-3-3 could, in theory, help a bit as well.

The most important part, though, will be finding better distribution from central defense. I know who I think should be starting there... 

Both y'all.


What's it mean for the US?

Panama struggle to defend against the break, and the US are simply a more talented team overall. They should win comfortably.

However... the US have been bad. They have only two run-of-play goals in their last 400 non-friendly minutes (Dempsey's winner vs. Haiti and Julian Green's consolation goal vs. Belgium last summer). At the World Cup they were outshot 94-44, and at the Gold Cup they've been even worse, conceding 37 shots and managing only 12 in two games.

This team has turned into a "bunkers, counters and set pieces" squad over the last two years. Enjoy the great performances in friendlies as much as you want (I sure did), but when there's real stuff on the line we turtle.

The good news, though? The good news is that the last opponent the US outshot in a "real" game was Panama, way back in 2013 to close the Hexagonal. They won that one 3-2 and the legend of San Zusi was born.

Maybe Klinsmann will rediscover some of that magic tonight.

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