GOAL! USA 5-0 Panama (Pulisic 65)
Clinical, wondrous, composed. The buildup from Antonee Robinson and De La Torre on the left is good enough. The pivot and nutmeg from Pulisic puts him alone 10 yards out, and he slots it into the net for his hat trick.
63 min: Aaron Long, a mainstay before an Achilles injury, is getting ready to come in.
Looking ahead, here’s my suggested lineup for the Costa Rica game: Horvath, Moore, Robinson, Robinson, Zimmerman, Long, Bello, Sands, Palmer-Brown, Yedlin, Adams. That’s a goalkeeper, nine defenders and a midfielder who can defend.
61 min: Oh, that is a beautiful pass from Reyna and a squandered chance from Ferreira. You could also look at it as De La Torre passing to an off-balance forward when he should’ve shot.
57 min: Reyna leads a promising charge up the center of the field, and Pulisic sends a pass along the ground to one post. The ensuing cross is cleared, but Shaq Moore presses forward and is fouled. Good game for the last-minute call-in.
Meanwhile, in Honduras … it’s still tied.
Beleaguered Mexico coach Tata Martino isn’t there because of an eye ailment.
55 min: Still nervous moments for the US defense. Well, they would be, if they hadn’t already scored four goals.
But they don’t want to squander what they’ve built here. Nothing can be taken for granted in Costa Rica.
53 min: CHANCE for Panama, and Tyler Adams has saved a goal, blocking a shot from the top of the box after Steffen and Zimmerman’s miscommunication.
I’ll say it again — Steffen needs to come out.
48 min: Good buildup for Panama, but the resulting shot is calmly blocked.
Anyway — Reyna and Kellyn Acosta are in, replacing Arriola and Musah.
For Panama — Medina, Rodriguez and Torres are in, replacing Barcenas, Gondola and Blackburn.
Second-half subs …
A lot. Reyna is on, but it’s Gio Reyna, not his long-retired father. He drags a shot wide on one of his first touches.
Scott Bassett writes: “I know USA! USA! USA! is leading by three goals (and a penalty on the way) but they look incredibly open and wobbly. Like they need Reyna on the field. Claudio Reyna, that is, to put his foot on the ball and calm things down.”
Costly giveaway in 2006, though.
Not to take anything for granted from a USA point of view, but if you’re Costa Rica right now, are you thinking you have a better chance of overtaking Mexico instead of the soon-to-be-visiting USians? If Mexico can only get a draw tonight, they’d be on 23 to Costa Rica’s 22.
HALFTIME: USA 4-0 Panama
Not the USA’s best half of play. They lead 4-0. Sometimes, it’s just going your way. And the goals were all well-taken.
45 min +5: Pulisic gets shoved, comes back with a shove of his own, and then someone drills the ball in Pulisic’s direction, though it hits De La Torre instead. Pulisic goes ballistic, but his teammates show remarkable unity in throwing their star player away from a messy situation.
GOAL! USA 4-0 Panama (Pulisic 45+3 pk)
45 min +2: PENALTY! Just after referee Ivan Barton let Panama get away with just a warning after another brutal foul against Pulisic, he gives a questionable penalty on some contact in the area. Barton gives at least one yellow and could easily give another for dissent.
45 min +1: Panama’s corner kick fizzles, and Pulisic quickly brings it forward and plays ahead to Antonee Robinson, who gets control of the ball with a step on the defense but is ultimately caught at the edge of the area.
45 min: Finally, a lull.
I only disagree with the typo. But they’ve taken advantage of their opportunities, and that’s never to be taken for granted.
42 min: BICYCLE ATTEMPT by Ferreira in the middle of the box. Sends it well over the bar, but it was worth a try.
41 min: Pulisic turns it over in a dangerous spot, and a few passes lead to a shot from Godoy, who sends it just wide. Flag was up for offside, anyway, but the defense just looks far too uneasy here.
Good thing the USA has already, you know, scored three goals.
40 min: A cleaner catch this time for Steffen.
From the record books:
38 min: Steffen dawdles with the ball at his feet far too long. No harm done in this case, but you have to wonder if some physical pain is distracting him and hurting his decision-making.
37 min: USA on the run, but it’s a poor ball in the end.
Agreed, and you wonder how much the midfield misses the industrious Weston McKennie.
35 min: Free kick for Panama. Cleared.
A Panamanian goal in this game wouldn’t be a surprise. They’re playing for their qualification lives, and they were pressing even when it was 0-0. The question is how many they’ll give up.
32 min: Now Arriola’s down, having taken a right forearm to the face from Gondola.
They checked this one but decided not to worry about it.
Fearless editor Tom Lutz informs me that, given the current scores, Costa Rica would have to beat the USA 5-0 to take away their spot in the World Cup.
30 min: Concern for Steffen again, as he flaps at a high cross and is fortunate to recover for a point-blank save. He’s grimacing. He’s hurt. He needs to come out.
GOAL! USA 3-0 Panama (Ferreira 27)
De La Torre to Moore to Arriola to Ferreira, and the young American blasts it into the net from 6 yards out.
Goal difference matters, and this team smells blood.
27 min: Half-chance for the USA, with Pulisic freezing a terrified defense before playing the ball for Ferreira, who is shut down …
For now …
GOAL! USA 2-0 Panama (Arriola 23)
Give credit to our referee Ivan Barton. Pulisic was absolutely clobbered in the corner, but Barton correctly played advantage. Antonee Robinson lofts the ball to the top of the 6, where Paul Arriola flicks it to the far post with a deft header.
20 min: CHANCE for Panama! The free kick goes into a dangerous area and stays there for a goal mouth scramble that see keeper Zach Steffen come up in some pain. Replay shows Steffen punched it away and surely stopped a goal. Play continues farcically with a Panamanian attacker down three yards from the goal, causing Steffen to step around him. No whistle to stop play until Pulisic is emphatically fouled.
Steffen gets treatment but continues. Folk hero Ethan Horvath is the backup.
19 min: Panama goes direct toward Blackburn, who responds with an unconvincing dive that convinces our ref to give a free kick.
GOAL! USA 1-0 Panama (Pulisic 17, pen)
PENALTY! Replay also shows a handball, and referee Ivan Barton of El Salvador can’t ignore both of these.
Jesus Ferreira is approaching the mark to take this one, which is a bit of a surprise. Our commentators wonder if this is a decoy, using Ferreira as a decoy to absorb Panama’s ire as they whine about a legit call.
And they’re right. Kudos to Stu Holden and John Strong.
14 min: Replay shows a routine hand to the face and neck from Godoy on Zimmerman. It’s Concacaf, so that’s probably OK. The ref will take a look at the screen anyway.
13 min: This would be a good time to point that we have VAR because Walker Zimmerman is down in the area after that corner kick.
13 min: Corner kick, and it’s dangerous. Header, deflection, shot, deflected out. Let’s do it again.
11 min: Pulisic goes for goal despite the acute angle. The referee doesn’t think it deflected off the way. The AR disagrees. The AR wins out. As it should be, says this frequent AR.
10 min: This is better for the USA. Miles Robinson wins the ball, and they string together a few passes to get the ball to Pulisic. The anticipation rises, but his shot is blocked.
But the USA regains possession, and Pulisic suffers the first of what will surely be many fouls. Free kick from 22 yards or so.
8 min: Stats say Panama has had 64.5% of the possession. This is very strange. The USA simply can’t get the ball.
Carrasquilla rips a hopeful long-range shot well over the bar. Impressive technique to get that much power, but it’ll only trouble a few supporters behind the goal.
6 min: 30-yard free kick for Panama, and they run a set play that must’ve looked great on the training ground but fails to impress here.
ICYMI: If something should happen to the US men in qualifying, those of us in the 50 states and additional territories can always switch our allegiance northward …
2 min: Panama is pressing. No bunkering on the road here. Good for them.
Kickoff: On a related note, my laptop’s clock is 10 minutes behind. But we have indeed just started.
Meanwhile, El Salvador barely missed an equalizer against Costa Rica deep into stoppage time.
Alas for the USA and Panama (and Mexico), no.
And the game ended with Keylor Navas dodging water bottles while the ref urged him to play the ball forward. Concacaf in a nutshell.
1 – Luis Mejia (Union Española, Chile)
15 – Eric Davis (Dunajska Streda, Slovakia)
16 – Andres Andrade (Armenia Bielefeld, Germany)
4 – Fidel Escobar (Cultural Leonesa, Spain)
23 – Michael Murillo (Anderlecht, Belgium)
20 – Anibal Godoy (Nashville SC)
8 – Adalberto Carrasquilla (Houston)
13 – Freddy Gondola (Alajuelense, Costa Rica)
10 – Yoel Barcenas (Leganes, Spain)
19 – Alberto Quintero (Universitario, Peru)
14 – Rolando Blackburn (Royal Pari, Bolivia)
So the only countries whose pro leagues have two representatives on this team are Spain and … the USA.
From the federation’s notes:
1-Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
2-Shaq Moore (Tenerife)
3-Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
12-Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
5-Antonee Robinson (Fulham)
4-Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
6-Yunus Musah (Valencia)
14-Luca de la Torre (Heracles)
7-Paul Arriola (FC Dallas)
10-Christian Pulisic (capt.; Chelsea)
20-Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas)
Substitutes: 18-Ethan Horvath, 8-Cristian Roldan, 9-Ricardo Pepi, 11-Gio Reyna, 13-Jordan Morris, 15-Aaron Long, 16-George Bello, 17-Jordan Pefok, 19-James Sands, 21-Gianluca Busio, 22-Erik Palmer-Brown, 23-Kellyn Acosta
If that lineup looks odd to you, bear in mind that DeAndre Yedlin and Tim Weah hit their yellow-card limits in Mexico. And everyone’s tired. There was some talk that the USA might start a B team in Mexico in anticipation of loading up the team for tonight’s game instead, but that obviously didn’t happen.
Moore, who has spent a few years banging around in Spain, mostly in the Segunda Division, only joined up with the team a few days ago when Reggie Cannon tested positive for Covid.
De la Torre is starting for only the second time.
Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest are still out.
You may say I’m a (bad) dreamer, but I’m not the only one …
Preamble: The scenarios
Please pardon this peek into my psyche, which I promise will pay off. Perhaps. Possibly.
Over the weekend, I did live curling webcasting, because that’s how I roll. On one key delivery, I was flabbergasted at the decision to attempt a runback rather than a draw to the eight-foot, because … it doesn’t matter — just know that I was surprised by what one team tried to do. As I thought might be the case, they wound up giving up one rather than scoring four. A less risky shot would’ve guaranteed three.
I asked afterward why they would try such a shot. Their answer was that they simply didn’t see the worst-case scenario I saw.
That’s me. I see worst-case scenarios.
So you’ll see below that there are scenarios in which the USA! USA! USA! can qualify for a voluntary trip to Qatar for the World Cup, which will be held this year unless other worst-case scenarios come into play and we’re all hiding from pandemics or geopolitical events. With a draw today, the USA would at the very least qualify for the intercontinental playoff with the Oceania representative, which will be either New Zealand or the Solomon Islands, who will face each other in a final that is now politically charged. Lest you think that result is a foregone conclusion, bear in mind that New Zealand scraped through today’s semifinal with Tahiti by a 1-0 decision.
The worst-case scenario is a loss to Panama. Assuming Costa Rica hangs on to win in El Salvador (they lead 2-1 in the 65th minute) and Mexico beats last-place Honduras, the standings would look like this with one game remaining if Panama wins:
28 Canada (qualified)
22 USA (likely ahead on goal difference)
22 Costa Rica
On the last matchday (March 30, the last of this brutal three-game international-window whirlwind slate), Panama hosts Canada, which has no incentive now. The USA must travel to Costa Rica. If that seems easy, you didn’t see Canada visit Costa Rica a few days ago. Nor do you remember the USA crashing out of qualifying last time around.
So will the USA heed its lessons of 2018? Will this young team show the fortitude of its predecessors in the rough-and-tumble world of Concacaf qualifiers? Or will today’s game be the soccer equivalent of a runback attempt that concedes a vital three points?
(Another example of my dark psyche: As a Duke graduate, I’m already muting people on Facebook in anticipation of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team defeating the Blue Devils in Mike Krzyzewski’s last game, and the Tar Heels haven’t even defeated St. Peter’s yet.)
Never a doubt, really, at least not any time in the past couple of months.
Stuck in the wilderness since 1986, the Canadian men will finally be back on the sport’s big stage. (The women are there routinely, thanks to North America being one of the regions that took the sport seriously.)
Cyle Larin scored in the 13th minute, and Jamaica offered little resistance after that. The final tally was … hang on, give me a second to count … 4-0.
Also today, Kerri Einarson earned bronze for the Canadian women in the world curling championship, news overshadowed somewhat by the announcement that Rachel Homan and Tracy Fleury will be joining forces next year. That’s like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers saying, “You know what? I think we’ll both sign for you.”
Beau will be here shortly. In the meantime, here’s a quick preview of today’s game courtesy of our friends at the Associated Press:
With two games left in World Cup qualifying, the United States head into a showdown against Panama in Orlando knowing that winning the last home match will be key before going on the road for the finale.
The US romped over the Panamanians 4-0 in October 2017 as Christian Pulisic scored the first goal and set up the second. Needing only a draw four days later, the Americans flopped to a 2-1 defeat at Trinidad and Tobago, a nadir in American soccer that ended a streak of seven straight World Cup appearances.
“Every game comes with pressure, different pressure, and, of course, we feel it,” goalkeeper Zack Steffen said Saturday. “We’re aware of the emotions, of our emotions going into it, and it’s just about kind of putting those on the backburner and going out there and playing the game that we’ve been playing for our whole lives.”
Canada lead Concacaf qualifying with 25 points and the US are second with 22, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. Costa Rica are fourth with 19, and Panama fifth with 18. The top three nations qualify for this year’s World Cup, and fourth place advances to a playoff against the Oceania champion, likely New Zealand.
The US can clinch Sunday with a victory and Costa Rica failing to win at El Salvador, or with a draw if Los Ticos lose. A US draw would guarantee no worse than the playoff spot. With a plus-nine goal difference to Costa Rica’s plus-two, a win would put the US in position to head to Costa Rica at most needing to avoid a lopsided defeat.
“It’s really important not to get ahead of ourselves,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I know there are similarities to last time, but we’re looking forward. I don’t think this is a group that looks back. We acknowledge what happened in the past. It’s part of who we are as US men’s national team players and program. We acknowledge that, but we have to forge our own path, and tomorrow’s a good time to do it.”
Goalkeeper Matt Turner, right back Sergino Dest, central defender Chris Richards and midfielders Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson are injured, backup right-back DeAndre Yedlin and winger Tim Weah are suspended and No 3 right back Reggie Cannon is out with Covid-19. Shaq Moore was brought in from Spain to meet the team in Orlando and appeared likely to start at right back.
The US are coming off Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Mexico at altitude in Mexico City, when the Americans had the better chances. The US followed the emotional high of a home win over El Tri in November with a bumpy 1-1 draw at Jamaica.
“It was just a totally different atmosphere, and we knew it was going to be a tough game, an ugly game and something we just had to grind through,” Steffen said. “This time, I think getting a point at Azteca, all the energy and emotions exerted there, we didn’t get too high, we didn’t get too low. Coming back to Orlando, where we’re all focused, just kind of just to stay in the moment.”