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U.S. defeats Panama on Gregg Berhalter’s debut

The former Crew head coach had a huge 3-0 victory in his first match with the National Team.

Panama v United States Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Former Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter had a promising debut with the U.S. Men’s National Team, as the Stars & Stripes defeated Panama 3-0 at the State Farm Stadium, in Glendale, Arizona, in his first match at the helm. Black & Gold players Zack Steffen, Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp all played in the game with the goalkeeper and the striker getting starting spots in Berhalter’s first lineup.

The result made Berhalter the first National Team head coach to win on his debut since Bob Bradley led the U.S. to take down Denmark 3-1 in Carson, California, back in 2007.

“There were some good things,” Berhalter said after the game. “We talked a lot about the ideas and concepts and on how to implement them, but I think we have enough to work with and a good platform to continue to grow. It’s a proud moment personally, but I keep going back to the guys because of all they have done these past two weeks to be in this position, it’s been gratifying.”

The former Crew manager deployed the team in a 4-3-3 formation instead of the traditional 4-2-3-1 he used for the majority of his time in Columbus, as many expected. The team, which wore armbands with Sigi Schmid’s name, had five starters who were representing their country for the first time in their careers.

One of them, Chicago Fire’s midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, scored the first goal of the Berhalter Era at the 39th minute, when he fired a low shot from inside the penalty box after an assist from Real Salt Lake’s winger Corey Baird. Zardes participated in the play, feeding Baird on the right wing.

The Americans secured their victory at the 80th minute mark when San Jose Earthquakes’ fullback Nick Lima made a huge tackle to stop a Panamanian counter attacker and crossed the ball to Los Angeles Football Club’s center back Walker Zimmerman, who headed it to the back of the net.

With one minute left on the clock, the U.S. scored its third goal. New York City FC’s winger Jonathan Lewis advanced from the left wing and played a low cross to LAFC’s striker Christian Ramirez, who just tapped it in from inside the six-yard box.

Zardes, who played his 41st match for the USMNT, was one of the most active players of the night, especially in the first half, when he had two dangerous headers and a good hold up play to Mihailovic which the midfielder shot wide. In the second half, Zardes had two chances to score on the same play, but Panama’s goalkeeper Eddie Roberts saved the first and he placed the rebound way too high. He was replaced by Ramirez at the 84th minute.

Steffen, on the other hand, had quiet night for most of the time. He was called into action in the 55th minute, when he needed to dive and use his left hand to deflect Edson Samms’ close-range finish. He also saved a long-distance shot from Ángel Orelien before he was replaced by Sean Johnson at the 74th minute mark.

Trapp, who entered the field at the 84th minute, had limited time to perform in his 12th international match, but connected eight of the nine passed he attempted and recorded one clearance and one recovery.

The national team now heads back to California as it prepares to play Costa Rica next Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Avaya Stadium, in San Jose.