It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But the United States under-20 men’s national team now have one point from two matches and are in danger of missing this summer’s U-20 World Cup.
January 11, 2015
AFTER DROPPING POINTS to Guatemala in agonizing fashion on Friday, the American nightmare in Jamaica continued unabated on Sunday afternoon.
In another underwhelming performance, the U.S. under-20 men’s national team suffered only their third defeat in 12 months, falling 1-0 to Panama and tumbling even further down the table in Group A of the 2015 under-20 CONCACAF championship.
Looking like the best competition for the Americans in Group A, Panama’s athletic and determined side was able to effectively overrun the American midfield, neutering the contributions of the talented, attack-minded lineup rolled out by head coach Tab Ramos.
The scoring sequence came in the 78th minute. Off a midfield turnover—and with four attacking players in the box for Panama—midfielder Edson Samms chipped a delicate ball into the path of substitute Carlos Small, who slid his effort through the legs of an out-of-position John Requejo and Zack Steffen for the game’s decisive goal.
After Friday’s unfortunate draw, this result spells real trouble for Ramos’ squad as it attempts to secure passage to New Zealand for this summer’s World Cup.
Looking to make a point early on, the Americans nearly went ahead in the third minute on a towering header from Matt Miazga that was cleared off the Panama line. The Americans wouldn’t get a better chance for the remaining 87 minutes.
The opening half was largely a pensive affair for the Americans. Both teams enjoyed periods of possession, with neither able to generate many clear-cut chances. Instead, the battle was played out in the midfield. Employing a 3-4-3 formation, the Panamanians had great success in overloading the Americans in the middle of the pitch; utilizing a high line of confrontation and physical challenges in an attempt to spring los Canaleros’ cutting counter attack.
For stretches the pace was frantic and physical—only aided by the head referee’s lenient whistle.
Perhaps a reaction to its heartbreaking draw on Friday, the Yanks seemed cautious. Passing rhythm was disjointed at times, and there was clearly difficulty playing between the lines in the midst of increasing midfield pressure. Unable to get forward within the run of play, the most positive chances for the young Yanks often resulted from free kick deliveries.
There were chances, however.
Fulham’s Emerson Hyndman, who was among the few bright spots for the Americans, nearly got on the score sheet in the 17th minute after latching onto a Tommy Thompson pass and forcing a diving save by De Gracia from 25 yards out. The rebound was left on a platter for a Junior Flores tap-in, only for the Borussia Dortmund midfielder to be whistled offside before taking his effort.
As the first half wound down, the pace eventually settled and the Americans showed improved spells in attack. Seeing very little time with possession in this period, Panama’s best chance came in the 35th minute on a hopeful long ball that was able to split the sturdy center back pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Miazga. A clever pull-back gave midfielder Ismail Diaz and long-range opportunity that luckily deflected off the trailing foot of a diving Zack Steffen.
For the second time in the tournament, the second half began with an early substitution from Ramos, who replaced an injured Flores with Los Angeles Galaxy forward Bradford Jamieson. Similar to Friday’s match against Guatemala, the personnel change sparked the attacking initiative of the Americans, who were able to circulate the ball with better success for a time.
However, minus a brief spell of dominance—including three forays engineered by Hyndman—the Panamanian midfielders continued to outwork their counterparts on defense and stretch them in the attack. The Americans—who finished the year 12-2-2 in competitive matches—now have zero goals from the run of play after 180 minutes.
After the back-breaking goal, Ramos attempted to spark the offensive attack by introducing target forward Ben Spencer—but the effort was for naught. With the loss, the Yanks slip into 5th place in Group A ahead of a must-win matchup with Aruba on Wednesday afternoon.
ASN Contributing Editor Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him on Twitter already.