USA v Panama – Tactical Analysis

Altidore hold and pass

Altidore hold and pass


US v Panama – Yanks Dazzle with Slick Play in the Final Third

Panama Playing for a Draw

Realizing they were up against a side that has not lost at home in a qualifier since 2001, Panama pragmatically set up in a defensive 4-5-1.

The back four sat fairly deep and the midfield let the US pass the ball around the back. The Canaleros only pressured when the ball went inside their half. Initially the approach was very effective but as the night wore on, more and more gaps began opening up in the midfield and the organization and marking of runners began to falter.

Furthermore, Panama posed a minimal threat on the counter attack. They could not win the ball and quickly break forward. Their approach was to attack down the left side and isolate Evans in one v one situations with Quintero. The tricky winger did get the better of Evans in the opening half hour, but his crossing led to nothing since Panama only had one man in the box.

Klinsmann and his staff knew the approach from the visitors would be negative so he instructed his team to ease into the match. The Yanks chose to slowly take control of the possession and knock the ball around the back early on, not wanting to get caught out on the counter.

The 4-4-1-1 is beginning to resemble a cohesive formation and a system that the players have grasped and look comfortable playing. With each player understanding their responsibilities and also being in camp for an extended period, the combination play has gotten quicker and players are beginning to interchange in the final third.

Surge From Bradley

Since Jermaine Jones was out injured, Michael Bradley had a slightly different role in the center. He always had the license to get forward, but last night he was instructed to press higher in midfield and win the ball back closer to the opposition’s goal.

Bradley run Dempsey scissor.

Bradley run Dempsey scissor.

Seen above, Panama loses possession with numbers forward, and Bradley has the ability to run at the defense. Dempsey makes a perfect scissor run to take the only midfielder away from Bradley and allow him to play Johnson in on the left. Johnson’s perfect ball across the six found Altidore at the back post for the opening goal.

The Altidore – Dempsey Partnership

Dempsey playmaking

Dempsey playmaking

Contrary to the match in Kingston, Clint Dempsey was much more involved in the attack in Seattle. He has become such a versatile playmaker due to his tactical intelligence.

The little things, like the scissor run to open space for Bradley or the run to the near post to get Altidore free to score, Dempsey can impact a match without touching the ball.

Thus, the emergence of Jozy Altidore in the last three matches has equated to a dangerous partnership up front for the Yanks. He looks more like a complete number nine now than ever before.

The goals have come, but the holdup play has been more promising. Not only is he holding the ball up but he is doing something with it. A minute before scoring the opener, Altidore received a pass with the defender on his back. He turned and was free on goal but was chopped down.

Though a penalty was not awarded, Altidore’s work on the play was outstanding. In the second half, he sent Beasley through on goal to hit the post. He also played in Dempsey behind the defense who shot wide. Simply, he put in a wonderful display and ticked all the boxes that a great forward does.

Altidore to Dempsey

Altidore to Dempsey


Gonzalez Ball Watching

With the Panamanian attacks limited to hopeful crosses into the box, Besler and Gonzalez were easily able to clear any threats. Yet, the Canaleros crafted one chance in the dying minutes of the match. As Gonzalez stared down the player in possession, the second striker snuck in behind and picked up the ball only to be thwarted by an onrushing Tim Howard.

The breakdown could be written off as inconsequential due to the score line, but breakdowns from basic errors like ball watching need to be cleaned up. Gonzalez had been prone to at least one or two mistakes a game which will be exposed by better sides (like in the Belgium match).


The task to qualify for Brazil looks to be almost secure. However, the Stars and Stripes should now focus on winning the hex to secure as high a seed possible for the World Cup draw. As the forward duo shines and the combination play in the final third progresses, the Americans should approach every game expecting three points.

Looking at the Honduras match, Klinsmann now has a selection headache (which is a good thing). Cameron stepped in and played great. Not only did he have an assist, but his mobility in the center and the constant deflections and interceptions he made make him a viable alternative for Jermaine Jones.

On the right, Eddie Johnson provided an element that Zusi does not. Johnson is willing to make runs in behind the back four and provide a goal scoring option from out wide. On the other hand, Zusi is more willing to track back and defend and also serves up better crosses.

Tweet your thoughts to @kpngacleansheet on the match and if Klinsmann should trot out the same eleven next week. Also Keeping a Clean Sheet has a Facebook page.

Editorial: The Day the Nats Came to My Adopted Home Town Matches My Great World Cup Memories

Match Report

USA v Panama: Photo Gallery


About Author


  1. While Cameron did some nice things, I thought he made a couple very bad passes as well as losing his runner on defense at least once leading to real danger. Definitely not just positives from him.

  2. Beasley plays too weakly to be a defender. He goes down to easily, and will not always get the call, sometimes leaving a numbers mismatch in the final third as result.

    But it was great to see the ball-movement among Dempsey, Altidore & Bradley and Fabian’s cross was at thing of beauty as well.

  3. Since Beasley will sit, perhaps Klinsmann will do something simple like move Fabian to LB, move Eddie J. to LW and Zuzi back to RW.

  4. Perhaps Dempsey had a better game precisely because Jones was absent. Bradley’s tactical intelligence equals Dempsey, not a strength of Jones. With Cameron playing a deeper role the two smartest players were always involved in the offensive third. Jones can play deeper, but on the US team he has been insistent about pushing forward leaving Bradley to do much of the work Cameron did in this match. Cameron also adds an arial presence in games that feature opponents with taller more powerful fowards.

    There is also the possibility that Landon Donovan will rejoin the team. He is willing to get behind the defense and willing to track, back and defend making the possibilities at right midfield very interesting indeed. Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves.