FIFA World Cup season is over, but aficionados of international soccer were treated to a matchup between the United States men’s national soccer team and Panama on Sunday Feb. 8. The U.S. has not had good luck in recent matches—the team has not won in five games. This time, however, the team was able to defeat Panama in a relatively easy 2-0 win. The pace of the match was relatively droll as both teams avoided marauding too perilously into their respective attacking thirds. There were no clear chances until the Yanks drew blood on a corner from midfielder Michael Bradley with a miraculous goal that bended from the corner flag into the side netting. Bradley had attempted a similar shot a few possessions previous.
The U.S. was able to score its second goal from national team veteran forward Clint Dempsey. Los Angeles Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes assisted Dempsey with a pinpoint accurate pass between two Panamanian defenders. Dempsey picked up the ball with a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper and performed a stepover to get by, slotting it home for the States. The U.S. then held on through the second half with minimal effort, ending the game 2-0.
The game was unique in the sense that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann only called up one player that plays overseas: recently transferred defender DeAndre Yedlin. This was a stark contrast to the 13 players that were called up to play at the World Cup in Brazil in summer 2014.
It has been the assumption that players who play stateside are not as good as players who gained experience in other leagues overseas, but this game showed that the U.S. was able to compete at an international level while fielding a team full of Major League Soccer players. The win against Panama was not only a good sign of the development of the USMNT, but also for the MLS league.
The development of soccer in the U.S. was especially exemplified in this game by youngster Zardes. Arguably the best performer of the game, Zardes spent his entire life in Los Angeles and had never played overseas. He was still able to play as good as––if not better than––teammates who have overseas experience like Dempsey and Bradley.
The U.S still undoubtedly has a lot of room to improve; this was just their second win since the World Cup. It is encouraging, however, to see the development of MLS and Klinsmann’s trust in the system to call-up homegrown players. The team’s roster formula worked this time around, and hopefully, it will yield consistent results in the Yanks’ upcoming games against Denmark and Switzerland in March.