Upsets happen sometimes in international soccer, but this is one that shouldn't have. The United States men's national team, playing on home soil in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, were defeated by Panama 2-1 in their Group C match in the 2011 Gold Cup. It was the first loss the Americans have ever had against Panama in nine meetings. It was also the first time they had ever been defeated in Gold Cup group play, a streak that had reached 26 in a row.
Make no mistake; this was a brutal defeat, one that is certainly unmatched in recent U.S. soccer history. In fact, it was so awful that in order to put this loss in the proper fan perspective, we've had to send out for analysis on the match from someone who has a much deeper knowledge base to draw from. Please see below a half-review, half-rant from Toro Grande of SBN's USF blog, Voodoo Five.
Congratulations Tampa. You shall no longer be known for the failure of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, but for hosting the nadir of American soccer in the modern era, which is defined as everything that happened since Paul Caliguri's goal against Trinidad and Tobago put the US in the 1990 World Cup. 5-0 vs. Mexico happens, especially when it's your B squad, like the '09 Gold Cup Final. Ghana happens. They're a quality side, and the side that eliminated the US in the previous two World Cups played the red, white, and blue even twice. Sam's Army was just a bit unlucky.
But Panama, at home, while getting outplayed in every single facet of the game, cannot EVER happen. And if the World Cup started tomorrow (assuming the Americans were in it), most of the team that was on the pitch tonight would be there for kickoff.
We are not good. We have not developed the necessary talent to compete. And we are ineptly prepared and motivated by a milquetoast coach that was castrated by his own federation during their flirtation with Jurgen Klinsmann. That makes the failure of US Soccer head Sunil Gulati a double indemnity; he should have hired Klinsmann, and by failing to do so, he took away any authority his leader might have had in the boot room.
Tonight was exactly what should happen when you're unmotivated, undertalented, and unorganized. The back four of Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Steve Cherundolo, and Tim Ream were brutally horrid, showing no pace or cohesion whatsoever. They also provided terrible balls to their midfielders, who in turn couldn't give any service to their forwards. As has often been the case, the US has some of the best endurance and physicality of any side on the planet. And they also continue to be nowhere near competent technically. All horse, no jockey.
After watching Panama run with the ball like it was tucked into their shirts, the Yanks lack of inspiration and perspiration finally saw them deservedly victimized. In the 19th minute Jermaine Jones had yet another senior moment and let Gabriel Gomez find Eduard Dasent on a cross after the wall knocked down a free kick, and Tim Howard's reaction save allowed Luis Tejada to ping away a rebound from just outside the six. If Panama needed anything besides tons of the ball to see they could compete tonight, this gave them the needed confidence.
Panama continued their dominance, but their second tally in the 35th minute was a charitable gift by incompetent central defender Tim Ream. Ream clearly fouled Blas Perez in the left corner of the area, while the attacking player had his back to goal. It was a mistake that would have a high school freshman defender running long after practice, and completely inexcusable at the international level. The PK was well taken by Gabriel Gomez, and he needed all of it as Tim Howard guessed correctly but couldn't come up with the miracle stop.
At halftime, it was somewhat unlucky for the visitors to be only ahead by two.
The second half saw a better US team, but unlike their usual comeback magic, this effort would fall short. They halved the advantage in the 67th when Steve Cherundolo figured out that the space behind the Panamanians was eligible for US players to use, and he forced a foul that gave the States a free kick near the Panama by line. The whipped in cross hit Michael Bradley's head, got flicked through to Clarence Goodson, and he put it away nearly unmarked and with no worries.
The US did a much better job earning chances late, but they would be for naught. Substitute forward Chris Wondolowski got a dream cross while unmarked from Jozy Altidore late, but pushed an absolute sitter over the bar when it would have been easier to make if he was blindfolded. Wondo then gave a pretty ball to the soon-to-be former coaches son Michael Bradley, but Bradley pushed the chance from near the penalty spot wide of the far post. The magic of the past didn't come through tonight. And that might be for the best.
A pretty lousy announced crowd of 27,731 headed down to Raymond James Stadium tonight thinking the USMNT would be going through the motions as they head towards the inevitable Gold Cup Final yet again. But they come away questioning the future of American soccer. Bob Bradley has a contract through the 2014 World Cup. The US Soccer Federation is also awash in cash. A failure to win this tournament, following the 4-0 pasting by Spain in Foxboro during the run-up, might finally bring the axe blade onto the neck of the head coach.
So tonight might have been the nadir. But it also might have kicked off a new beginning.