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US national team beats Panama, on cruise control

Posted by Julian Cardillo  June 12, 2013 12:24 AM

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(mlssoccer.com)


The US national team have hit a stroke of consistency this June, as they extended their winning streak to three games on Tuesday night in Seattle when they defeated Panama 2-0 in a World Cup qualifying match in front of over 40,000 at CenturyLink Field. The win puts the US in first place in North America's World Cup qualifying-Hexagonal with just five games left, their next match against Honduras on June 18 in Salt Lake City.

The US looked like they were in full command for the entire match against Panama. Jozy Altidore tapped in a cross from the left flank from Fabian Johnson in the 35th minute to open the scoring, while Eddie Johnson ran in behind Panama's defense to collect a long ball by Geoff Cameron and fire in the deciding goal in the 53rd minute. And Tim Howard, along with the US' four-man back line, preserved their second shutout of the Hexagonal.

While Panama, who now sit second to last in the final qualifying round, aren't exactly the fiercest test for the Americans, the US put together a rare, complete-game performance on both sides of the ball to preserve a key result.

With the kick-off to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil less than a year away, US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann entered the summer months with some headaches. Players anonymously told Sporting News that they questioned his ability as national team coach. His team was struggling to be consistent. A goal scorer was nowhere in sight. Critics bashed Klinsmann for not calling up former captain Carlos Bocanegra or Landon Donovan, the US' all-time leading scorer.

Klinsmann and the US have responded to each of the issues beautifully, with their latest victory over Panama the most recent shred of proof that they're on the right track. A switch seemed to flick after the US defeated second-ranked Germany on June 2, 4-3, in Washington DC. The confidence from that result carried into a 2-1 victory over Jamaica last Friday and then Panama.

On paper, the US have talented players capable of qualifying for the World Cup. But with this new-found confidence and the consistency Klinsmann's uncovered with his team, the US may be able to go further--in style.

There are two changes on the field that have begun to make the Klinsmann era fruitful. One is the central defense pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, two MLS defenders who have 18 international appearances between the two of them. Though both have experienced some growing pains against the higher echelons of soccer they see with the national team, the duo has been able to get key results on the road against Mexico, Jamaica, and now at home against Panama. There's no space for Bocanegra.

The other major change is the arrival of a goal scorer in Jozy Altidore. Altidore is now on a three-game scoring streak with the national team, which is big news for Klinsmann considering less than a month ago there were concerns over which player he would turn to for goals. The good news is that it doesn't look like Altidore will run into a scoring drought any time soon. The juggernaut-like forward finished his season with AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch Eredivisie with 23 goals, the fourth most in the league. Stand-by, Landon Donovan.

With the US clicking, the top spot in this final stage of World Cup qualifying is theirs to lose. But the US will be greatly helped by the fact that three of their final five qualifiers are at home. Two more wins may be enough for the US to book their tickets to the World Cup, with the top three finishers in the Hexagonal earning automatic berths to Brazil.

The US should continue cruising as they enter their game against Honduras next Tuesday, though the momentum may fade away by the time their next qualifiers pop up in September. But if Klinsmann can isolate what specific things have his team on a roll, there should be no issue getting the US to perform at their peak through the remainder of the qualifiers, at the World Cup, and beyond.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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