Soccer Outsider: USA-Panama match diary, player ratings

June 13, 2013

If any other city offered to host a World Cup qualifier on what appears to be several green-ish sleeping bags zipped together, U.S. Soccer would say “no”. But Seattle loves soccer. Having spent eight years in the Seattle-Portland corridor, I know why: Northwesterners love to be quirky, and soccer attracts quirky people. Soccer is the niche sport, the alternative; if football is AC/DC, soccer is The Kills. It’s also multicultural and international; it’s something to talk about while you’re backpacking through Europe on your “year off.” All of these things appeal to people in a city that sometimes seems to be populated entirely by theater geeks and the kid in high school who wore a fedora. And I say that with the utmost affection; I love Seattle like Seattle loves coffee.

So hopefully good vibes will trump bad grass for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama. And there are plenty of good vibes after Friday’s last-minute win against Jamaica. A U.S. win would put the Americans on the verge of booking tickets to Brazil, which is huge because you get way better deals if you book far in advance.

The lineup: Howard | Beasley, Besler, Gonzalez, Evans | Fabian Johnson, Bradley, Cameron, Eddie Johnson | Dempsey, Altidore. Jones is out with a concussion. Zusi is out with yellow card accumulation. Landon Donovan is currently sitting alone atop a mountain contemplating a lotus flower in the hope of finding his true self, aka “out.” So Klinsmann is using Cameron and Johnson.

Here’s kickoff from CenturyLink Field, which is loud and rocking. FYI, that’s not smoke from fireworks hovering over the field, that’s Northwest hippie stench.

2’ - Fabian with a left-footed volley over the bar! I need Fabian Johnson to play well enough to achieve one-name status; I’m tired of differentiating between him and Eddie.

6’ - Beasley plays a good cross, but he can’t find Eddie Johnson. I’d like to nickname Eddie “Fast Eddie,” but Wikipedia tells me that nickname is taken by music producer Edwin Smith, World War I pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and also Ed Savits, who is described as “an American businessman and pedophile”! Wow — what kind of business was he in? He must have been been one heck of a businessman for that to get top billing on his Wikipedia page.

9’ - The surface looks bad, but maybe not as bad as feared. The crowd is as good as advertised. So probably a good decision to come to Seattle.

11’ - Playing for Panama: recent DC United cast-off Marcos Sanchez. If he has a good game I’m going to throw a fit.

19’ - We need Eddie “Not Ed Savits” Johnson to get into the game. You may count this as my first “Landon Donovan should be on the roster” complaint of the match.

22’ - We have our first turf casualty of the night: Carlos Rodriguez slips and a Panamanian attack fizzles out. Bummer for them, but on the other hand it must be nice to be able to blame your failings on the turf. I’d love to bomb a set and be able to say, “Well, the surface here at McChuckeltons is borderline unplayable.”

24’ - Apparently Panama didn’t get the memo that Brad Evans is good now; their attack is focused on him. Seems that Evans didn’t get the memo, either; it’s working.

28’ - Panama is defending well. They’re not bunkering, they’re defending the whole field.

33’ - Altidore is taken down in the box but there’s no call! That should be a penalty. The defender came from behind, caught Jozy’s leg and didn’t get the ball. How is that not a penalty? Everything about that is a penalty.

35’ – GOAL USA! Altidoooooooooree!! Great move — Bradley surges through the midfield, plays in Fabian and Fabian finds Jozy on the back post! Jozy scores for the third time in three games. Get a good look, D.C. United fans: this is what a striker in form looks like.

44’ - Twellman complains about attendance being capped in deference to the Mariners-Astros game being played across the street. He points out that those are maybe the two worst teams in baseball, which prompts Ian Darke to say: “I’ll leave you to answer the letters.” Nah … I’m a Mariners fan from my days in the Northwest, and Twellman is right: They stink.

Halftime: 1-0 USA. I wouldn’t say the Americans are dominating this game, but I’d say they’re controlling it. A good team would get a second goal to take the pressure off.

46’ - For the record: You really can’t have natural grass in the Pacific Northwest. It just rains too much. I played youth soccer there; the fields I played on were muddier than a World War I trench.

50’ – AND THERE’S THAT GOAL! 2-0! Eddie “Just Eddie” Johnson with a cool finish! Nice pass from Cameron to get Eddie behind the defense, and Eddie controls with his right and finishes with his left. The crowd starts chanting “we are going to Brazil,” and it’s hard to argue with that.

66’ - Dempsey and Altidore almost combine for a goal! Those two are a potent tandem. I think even if, say, Herculez Gomez were to hit a rich vein of form, the days of putting Dempsey in the midfield might be over.

70’ - Eddie Johnson sweats like a southern lawyer in a movie set in the 1930s.

75’ - Sanchez slices a shot 30 yards wide a few minutes after being booked for diving. Good. You know, he’s the one who got cut, he should have the chip on his shoulder, but he played so poorly for United that I’m the one who feels wronged.

77’ - Dempsey gets abused more than Mr. Bill. One of the most fouled players on the planet.

78’ - An outstanding move goes Eddie > Bradley > Fabian > Jozy > Beasley > outside of the post. We should get half a goal for aesthetics. This is some of the best soccer the Americans have played during Klinsmann’s tenure.

90’ - The crowd is still chanting, the bench is standing and three points are in the bag – coming to Seattle was the right decision. Gonzalez — perhaps entranced by the atmosphere — lets his man run by him, but Howard makes the save to preserve the shutout. A good night for U.S. fans.

Full time: 2-0 USA. And Mexico tied at home. A very good night for US fans.

Player ratings:

Howard: 7. Goalkeepers always talk about staying alert on a slow night in case you have to make one save, and that’s exactly what Howard did in stoppage time.

Beasley: 6. I’m not saying I enjoy watching DaMarcus Beasley get fouled, but I enjoy watching DaMarcus Beasley get fouled. He’s so light that at least once every match he gets absolutely launched through the air.

Besler: 6.5. After a few strong performances, this position is suddenly his to lose.

Gonzalez: 6. Had a great match until he lost his man during stoppage time. Galaxy fans tell me that he’s sort of a West Coast Dejan Jakovic: usually good but prone to lapses in concentration.

Evans: 4.5. Panama focused its attack on the Americans’ right side and had some success. Still, this match combined with his performance against Jamaica average out to a start against Honduras next week.

Fabian: 6. Good, but probably not good enough to trigger one-name status. I’m forcing it.

Bradley: 7. I was glad to see him playing higher on the field than normal. With an underdog opponent and a defensive midfielder behind him, he should be a big part of the offense.

Cameron: 6. You could argue that by swapping him and Evans, Klinsmann would be playing both in their natural positions. But I think they’re better this way (Cameron is more skilled on the ball, Evans has a quicker first step).

Eddie: 6. Took a little while to get into the match, but was lively in the second half and took his goal well. I’ll bet he starts on the left against Honduras.

Dempsey: 6.5. The team has been playing well enough that we haven’t needed a “Clint Please Bail Us Out” game yet.

Altidore: 7.5. Speaking as a Fulham fan: somebody in the front office is figuring out whether it makes sense to buy Jozy, right? Someone in the front office of every mid-table team in Europe should be.

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Steven Goff · June 13, 2013