Arguably, there are three players whose continued good form will be crucial to the US men's national soccer team's hopes of qualifying for next summer's Fifa World Cup. But Zusi spoiled that, scoring a late goal the eliminated Panama and left many in the crowd in tears.
Panama equalized in the 43rd minute and a scoreless second half gave the USA a 1-1 draw and fourth place in CONCACAF's six-team final qualifying group with six games remaining. Neither team scored in the second half, and the draw leaves the U.S.in fourth place until June. But the visitors overcame tense circumstances, an uneven playing surface and constant Panamanian physicality to achieve the road point they'd originally targeted from this fixture.
A long throw-in fell to Gomez in the area and the midfielder gave Howard no chance with a powerful finish.
"We have to appeal this decision, we'll see how it goes", said Jorge Miadosqui, Argentina's national teams director.
Frankly, we haven't seen the likes of that since the Arena-coached 2002 World Cup team shocked the globe by reaching the tournament quarterfinals, and only narrowly falling to Germany. We're always swimming upstream away from home.
Of these fixtures, the toughest tests are bound to come in the away game with Mexico, the home game against Costa Rica and tonight's match against third place Panama. And if that sounds like lowered expectations, well, it is. They proceeded to take four of a possible six from two matches to escape last place and make gains on each of the other five teams, except Mexico, which is well on its way to punching an early ticket to Russian Federation.
The 6-0 victory with a hat-trick from Clint Dempsey felt like an essential three points in the context of qualification for the 2018 World Cup, and a form of catharsis - a purging of the bad vibes that gathered like storm clouds in the gloaming of Jürgen Klinsmann's tenure. In the short time on the field, he showed he belonged. I've run out of superlatives to describe him at this point, just know that it's not normal for such a young player to be this good.
In efforts to strengthen the team fabric, though, Arena did invite sports psychologist Tom Perrin, a former University of Virginia colleague, to work with the group as a whole and with some individuals in the current camp. If the USMNT keep winning at home and drawing on the road - heck, even if they just win at home - they're going to the 2018 World Cup in Russian Federation. They had to deal with an unusual amount of injuries, with six starters rendered unavailable at one time or another and that forced coach Bruce Arena into all kinds of potential lineup variations.
Pulisic almost got that goal back in the opening minutes of the second half, but his left-footed volley off a sliding Jorge Villafana cross was deflected wide by Baloy.
"We made a lot of progress and somehow managed to get through an unusual amount of injuries and those type of things", said Arena.
For a small country, Panama are a good side - hard to break down, creative going forward, a tough style of play and a hostile atmosphere.
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