USA vs. Panama: Biggest Thing Each Team Needs to Do to Ensure Victory
Szabados sprawled on the ice and her teammates came to her defense, setting off a lengthy tussle in the corner. “It happens from time to time,” said longtime Canadian team member Hayley Wickenheiser of the scuffle, recalling a 2010 incident. In the first period, Canada had a 5-4 edge in shots that failed to reflect its territorial control. The USA’s game was disjointed but the Americans’ speed still led to a couple of quality chances that Szabados (15 saves) rejected. Ouellette sent Canada into a 1-0 lead at 4:16 of the second, converting Jayna Hefford’s cross-slot power play pass. Only 1:21 later, Bailey Bram knocked in Canada’s second goal during a goal-mouth scrum. MORE: Men’s Olympic hockey tracker Meanwhile, the Canadian team defense ramped up its play, effectively blunting any USA attack by hindering breakouts, smothering rushes and blocking shots. Until a late power play, the U.S. put one shot on goal during an earlier player-advantage. The extent of Canadian domination was reflected not only in the two goals but the 12-2 shot advantage in the second period and 17-6 through 40 minutes. Then came the third with Tara Watchorn putting Canada into a 3-0 lead at 4:54. The United States finally broke through during a two-player advantage. Brianna Decker swatted the puck out of the air right in front of Szabados at 11:05. Gigi Marvin brought the pro-USA crowd to full throttle at 14:39 by cutting the lead to 3-2.
USA understudies fail to make case
And the high playmaker — typically Dempsey — in the customary 4-5-1 lineup was much missed. The backs hadnt the room to overlap with the wingers ahead of them staying wider, rather than coming underneath to support the lone striker. It was, simply put, a failure. After initially being pinned back by the Reggae Boyz, whose speed far exceeded their skill, the Americans found room to play higher upfield. But they had little use for that freedom. The defense wasnt entirely coherent and failed to feed the midfield much. The lines were set up too far apart and lacked cohesion or connection with one another. Sloppy on the ball, the attack lacked punch. The Americans mostly looked insipid and uninspired, leaving no real positive imprint on anybodys memory. A game that was slow and static and stale, that was the impression that will linger in the mind. From the looks of it, the intensity Klinsmann had hoped to retain has long since faded. The urgency simply wasnt there. As it turns out, there is no replicating the pressure to qualify for the World Cup artificially, once its been secured. HEAR US OUT!
Winning in Panama City will be hard enough. CONCACAF road venues are notoriously tough, and the Estadio Rommel Fernandez is no different. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports As if that’s not enough, Panama have everything on the line. They must get three points in order to have a shot at fourth in the group, which would mean qualification for the playoff against New Zealand. There’s no chance the Panamanians will be content to let the clock tick down and play defensively the entire match. The United States will need to come out sharp. They have to grab control of the match right from the outset and assert their dominance. While they arguably have more talent, the home atmosphere and player motivation will be the equalizers for Panama. It will take everything the Americans have just to claw away a 1-0 win. Another performance like they had against Jamaica will result in an embarrassing loss. Panama: Make the Most of Early Chances Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images Goals always change games, and the earlier you can score, the quicker you put the team on the back foot and change the narrative of the match.