Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson celebrates putting the United States 2-0 up against Panama. Reuters

Their campaign began in inglorious circumstances, but the United States took a firm grasp of their World Cup qualifying fate with a 2-0 victory over Panama in Seattle on Tuesday.

Jozy Altidore broke the deadlock in the opening half with his third goal in as many games for his country to erase memories of his near-two-year drought on the international scene. And Eddie Johnson’s strike just after the break enabled the U.S. an element of comfort as they saw out the victory that puts them atop the Hexagonal standings with 10 points after five matches.

Against a Panama side that were unbeaten in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying before Tuesday’s encounter, the U.S. again showed signs of building a cohesive unit under Jurgen Klinsmann. His side have now won three matches in a row heading into a home qualifier with Honduras in a week’s time. Klinsmann’s men should be full of confidence too after one of the most impressive performances of his tenure, led by standout performances by Altidore, Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron.

The match started brightly for the hosts with Fabian Johnson hitting a powerful shot over the bar at the far post. While Alberto Quintero was posing problems for Costa Rica down the left side and the controversial pitch was causing difficulty for both sides, the U.S. were taking a patient approach before attacking with verve down the flanks and could easily have gone in front midway through the opening period.

An awful defensive header by Carlos Rodriguez was pounced on with a volley from Bradley that looked destined for the bottom corner of the net before striking his own teammate Clint Dempsey on the heel. Just over 10 minutes later it was the referee who was to blame for the U.S. failing to get a golden chance to take the lead. Altidore was clearly taken down in the box after a neat turn but referee Roberto Garcia Orozco had a different tale on the proceedings.

Rather than stewing on the poor decision, just a minute later Altidore would have his revenge. Bradley burst through the middle before feeding Fabian Johnson to the left who crossed a perfect low ball into the six-yard box that invited Altidore to get on the end of it and the AZ Alkmaar striker duly obliged at the far post to give the U.S. a 36th-minute lead.

Bradley’s role was integral in the goal and the new midfield partnership was working a treat, with Geoff Cameron, in for Jermaine Jones, sitting deep and Bradley taking full advantage of his license to get forward. The Roma man threatened the goal again before half-time with a crashing drive that was just always travelling over the bar.

And just eight minutes after the break, it was Bradley’s less celebrated partner that came to the fore. Cameron showed that he was more than just a defensive presence with a fine ball over the top to find Eddie Johnson breaking in from the right and the Seattle Sounders forward controlled and then applied a cool finish to the delight of his home supporters.

Panama were now forced to abandon their safety first approach and coach Julio Dely Valdes soon brought in an extra forward in Rolando Blackburn. The substitute almost made an immediate impression with his first touch, but could only head over the bar at the near post.

But the visitors never seriously looked like getting back into the game and it was only the woodwork that prevented the U.S. from enjoying an even more emphatic victory. After Altidore’s effort had been spilled by Jaime Penedo in the Panama goal, Dempsey’s botched effort into the ground almost crept in but bounced off the top of the crossbar.

Beyond his increased threat in front of goal, Altidore also displayed his integral linkup play to feed DaMarcus Beasley down the left of the area, but this time it was the post that prevented a third goal. The hosts’ night almost ended on a sour note when Tim Howard was forced to make a good save from Blackburn in injury time, but ultimately the U.S. ran out comfortable and fully deserved winners.