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Panama vs USMNT: Yanks suffer first WCQ defeat

As the U.S. Men's National Team prepares for another slate of World Cup qualifying matches, Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendiola and Andy Edwards lay out their list of questions the squad needs to answer.

Panama vs USA: The USMNT fell flat in their second game in four days, as Gregg Berhalter’s side suffered a 1-0 defeat — their first in 2022 World Cup qualifying — in Panama City on Sunday.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Berhalter reaction ]

With eight points from their first five games, the USMNT remains in a top-two spot in CONCACAF’s eight-team double round-robin final round of World Cup qualifying. Up next is a quick turnaround to face 5th-place Costa Rica on Wednesday (7 pm ET).

[ MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule ]

Panama vs USMNT final score, stats, results

Final score: Panama 1, USA 0

Goal scorers: Panama (Godoy 54'), USA (None)

Shots: Panama 8, USA 5

Shots on target: Panama 4, USA 0

Possession: Panama 50%, USA 50%

4 things we learned, Panama vs USMNT

(with special guest commentary from PST’s Nicholas Mendola, italicized)…

1. Heavy rotation with an eye toward Wednesday: It’s hard to see “making seven changes to the side that finally — finally — put all the pieces together in a resounding victory just three days ago” as anything other than prioritizing Wednesday’s clash with Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio. Sure, Weston McKennie was unavailable due to injury and Antonee Robinson didn’t travel to Panama due to the United Kingdom’s travel restrictions, but the same couldn’t be said for Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Sergiño Dest or Miles Robinson — five of the USMNT’s brightest standout performers against Jamaica. The truth about the new octagonal round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying is this: each game (especially away from home) carries a little less weight than the former six-team format. With seven home games, anyone can qualify for the World Cup by winning all (or, maybe just most) of their home games while doing very little (or nothing) on the road.

2. No outlet, no counter-attacking opportunities: Putting aside the fact that he has scored three goals in his first two international appearances, it was Ricardo Pepi’s consistent hold-up play to release defensive pressure and start counter-attacks the other way which the USMNT missed most on Sunday. Pepi has the size and strength (not to mention, the touch) to hold off CONCACAF’s masters of the dark arts (otherwise known as center backs), and it makes the USMNT better at both ends of the field. Anytime the USMNT won the ball back from Jamaica, Pepi was ready to receive (whether on his foot, chest or head) and send the Yanks the other direction. For 65 minutes on Sunday, there was no outlet valve for the USMNT’s defenders and midfielders, which resulted in more than a handful of uncomfortable moments where possession was lost. Pepi came on midway through the second half, but the damage was done and the hill a steep one to climb in Central America..

3. No shots on target in a World Cup qualifier: Take aforementioned things 1 thing 2, and watch in horror as your national team fails to put a single shot on target over the course of 90 minutes. Feels really, really bad.

4. Berhalter’s folly: Look it’s difficult to blame Gregg Berhalter for thinking he can win with basically anyone after what happened in the Gold Cup, which was a terrific achievement, but dig a little deeper and you see 1-0 wins over Haiti, Qatar, Canada, and Jamaica on home soil. If he’s going to preach that World Cup qualifiers are difficult away from home, trotting out seven changes — many suspect and not fitting of a plan of playing for a point — in Panama City is just naive, especially considering he left the country without Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, John Brooks, and Zack Steffen. This was the Honduras away mistake again, only without the second-half goal surge. Now anything other than a win over Costa Rica turns this break into abject failure.

Man of the match: Anibal Godoy - Considering how poorly the USMNT played, Panama hardly made them pay with any regularity. Godoy’s goal was a very rare moment of danger inside either penalty area.

Panama vs USMNT recap, highlights

Matt Turner makes a tough save to keep USMNT level (video)

Turner wasn’t asked to do much in the first half (just this one save), but the play he had to make to keep the game level at 0-0 in the 45th minute was no easy one.

[ VIDEO: 5 key questions for USMNT in World Cup qualifiers ]

Panama take the lead from a corner kick (goal video)

The USMNT’s near post was anything but secure in the 54th minute, when Anibal Godoy got the final touch on a corner kick that likely would have found its way to the back of the net anyway.

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