It may just be another friendly, but after three straight defeats and five matches without a win, Jürgen Klinsmann could really do with a victory when his U.S. men’s national team takes on Panama in Carson, Calif. on Sunday.
It was a familiar story for Klinsmann’s side against Chile late last month. Against a team featuring just one player who had been in the South American’s squad for last year’s World Cup, the Yanks had a half-time lead but faded badly thereafter to lose 3-2 in the city of Rancagua, just south of Santiago. It was the fourth time in their last five matches that the U.S. had an advantage after 45 minutes only to fail to win the match.
It is a far cry from the famous moment in Natal last June when John Brooks’ late header gave the U.S. a dramatic win over Ghana to get the team’s World Cup campaign off to a dream start. Klinsmann’s stock was then sky high, three years after being charged with the job of leading a revolution in U.S. soccer to make the country a forced to be reckoned with on the global stage. Since then, Klinsmann has led his side to victory just once in nine internationals. Yet the German coach has suggested that the downturn in performances after the World Cup was to be expected.
“In many different ways, [the results are] explainable,” he said after defeat to Chile. “The tension drops after the World Cup. I think all of the teams go through that, but I think the more experienced teams, the teams that have far more peer pressure in their environment, they maybe allow themselves to drop 10 or 20 percent and not 30 or 50 percent. That is the difference to what we deal with [in] the aftermath of the World Cup in Brazil.”
For the collapse against Chile, Klinsmann blamed the fitness levels of a squad almost entirely based of players from Major League Soccer, who are currently on their off-season. To many observers, though, that felt like passing the buck, especially given the fact that fitness has long been viewed around the world as a major strength of the U.S. team. But speaking to ESPN, Klinsmann defended his comments.
“Some were very well prepared,” Klinsmann said. “But in a team, you're only as good as your worst player. Whoever was not prepared brings down the level. And then it's a chain reaction throughout the whole group.”
Klinsmann also revealed that he was considering the future of playing friendly matches during his annual January camp. While it has traditionally been used to have a look at untested players, the number of U.S. internationals moving back to MLS in the past 18 months means there is now a much stronger squad at Klinsmann’s disposal and thus far more scrutiny on results. Against Chile, U.S. regulars Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones, Matt Besler, DeAndre Yedlin and Mix Diskerud all started.
Many of them likely will again when Panama are hosted at the StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon. And those who do take the field will encounter a team with ample motivation to inflict further misery on Klinsmann’s men. Panama looked set to move within a playoff against New Zealand of qualifying for their first ever World Cup when they led the U.S. 2-1 going stoppage time of the final Hexagonal match in October 2013. Then Graham Zusi and Aron Johansson scored in the space of two minutes to allow Mexico to sneak in and leave Panama heartbroken. The result continued the Yanks’ dominance of the rivalry, with its record now standing at 11-1-2.
Goalkeepers: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Jon Kempin (Sporting Kansas City), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
Midfielders: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (Orlando City), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo (LA Galaxy), Jose Calderon (Deportivo Coatepeque, GUA)
Defenders: Leonel Parris (Tauro FC), Fidel Escobar (Sporting San Miguelito), Harold Cummings (Independiente Santa Fe, COL), Luis Ovalle (Zamora FC, VEN), Eric Davis (Sporting San Miguelito), Chin Hormechea (Arabe Unido), Michael Murillo (San Francisco FC)
Midfielders: Anibal Godoy (Budapest Honved FC, HUN), Marcos Sanchez (Táchira, VEN), Jhamal Rodríguez ( Chorrillo FC), Luis Pereira (Arabe Unido), Ricardo Buitrago (Plaza Amador), Hécgar Murillo (Tauro FC)
Forwards: Blas Perez(FC Dallas), Gabriel Torres (Colorado Rapids), Rolando Blackburn (CSD Communicaciones, GUA), Ismael Diaz (Tauro FC), Alfredo Stephens (Chorrillo FC), Jairo Glaize (Sporting San Miguelito)
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EST
TV channel: ESPN, UniMas, Univision Derportes