NASHVILLE – The old specter haunted the US national team again when they faced Panama at Nissan Stadium to open Group B play in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Yes, for the fourth time running in meeting in international tournament play, each walked away with a single goal and a single point each. And given that seemingly eternal scoreline between the two countries, it wouldn’t, on its surface, seem like the worst result.
Yet, in perhaps a marked departure from past eras, head coach Bruce Arena didn’t mince words or pretend all was copacetic.
“We didn’t play well on the day,” he said in the opening remarks of his post-game press conference.
Noted. So, where exactly did things go wrong?
“I thought we didn’t deal well with the pressure, especially in the midfield. We turned over way too much. We didn’t do a good job of establishing a rhythm, getting our team more involved in the game,” Arena continued. “Our passing wasn’t good on the day … It forced us to defend more than we should have, and it takes a little bit of energy out of you.”
That level of accountability spread throughout the squad.
“We just weren’t able to get in that final third enough,” said the captain, Alejandro Bedoya. “That lapse of concentration, the heat that affected our mentality, whatever it was, that can’t happen.”
Current team darling Kellyn Acosta, meanwhile, had choice words in describing the match:
Crap performance..Has to be better.. Thanks for the support as always!— Kellyn Acosta (@KellynAcosta) July 8, 2017
Acknowledging these deficits, though, serves as a solid step going forward as the US continues through the group stage of the Gold Cup. They’ll next meet Martinique, on Wednesday, and given that tiny island nation’s 2-0 drubbing of Nicaragua on Saturday, it might not exactly be a cakewalk.
Arena said, then, that he’s counting on both the less experienced members of the squad to step up, and for the veterans to both improve their play and lead.
“I don’t know if it’s [about more of] a leadership role, [or] just playing a little bit better, but certainly our more experienced players have to do that,” he said. “I think Brad Guzan does a very good job as a leader of the team, and Bedoya as well; that’s why he’s our captain today.”
In fact, Guzan provided one of the most marked bright spots during the match, Arena and his teammates said. The head coach said the incoming Atlanta United ’keeper played “very well,” while the New England Revolution’s Kelyn Rowe offered more effusive praise.
“I thought Brad stood on his head for a while and saved us,” Rowe said, “and kept us in that game for a long period of time.”
Here are some more positives in Arena’s book – Dom Dwyer’s goal, the only for the US on the night and his second in two appearances for this country, earned a press conference hat-tip. Arena also offered praise for substitutes Juan Agudelo, Gyasi Zardes, and Jordan Morris: “I thought they gave us some fresh legs and some energy,” he said of the trio of MLSers.
With all of that in mind, then, the Yanks will all have to regain their own fresh legs and energy over the next four days, before they face Martinique on Wednesday in Tampa (9 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN, TSN2 in Canada).
“I’d like to believe that as we continue to move on in group play, that we’ll play better and we’ll get some positive performances,” Arena said. “We knew Panama would give us a tough game, and they certainly did. Give them credit for that. I think at the end of the day we’re probably, hopefully going to make it out of group play.”