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U.S. National Team coasts to a group win in 1-0 victory against Panama

The U.S. finish up group play with three wins and zero goals against.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-USA at Trinidad and Tobago David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The United State’s Men’s National Team only needed a draw to win their Gold Cup group, but was able to secure all three points in unmemorable 1-0 win, save for a Jozy Altidore bicycle kick, match against Panama.

The USMNT and Panama both entered the last match of group play knowing that they were moving on to the knockout round. With qualification assured, but first place up for grabs, both teams fielded squads made up of mostly backups. U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter selected a totally new starting lineup, replacing all 11 players from the 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, while Panama’s Julio Dely Valdes brought in nine new players following their 4-2 win over Guyana.

Columbus Crew SC captain Wil Trapp got his first start of the tournament, while striker Gyasi Zardes and goalkeeper Zack Steffen started out on the bench for the first time. Steffen’s omission comes as a bit of a surprise. The former Crew keeper needs to start in as many competitive (non-friendly) U.S. matches as possible in order to earn his English work permit to play for Manchester City, but he should have plenty of time to earn those caps during his year-long loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf.

The USMNT started the match well with dominant ball possession and a flurry of early chances. The Americans weren’t able to put away any of those chances, and by the 15th minute Panama had settled into the match.

Few chances came for either team during the rest of the half, with both sides finding their way to the locker room with the matched tied at zero.

The second half kicked off to a quick start from the United States. In the first five minutes of the second half, Altidore carried the ball deep into the Panama goal box and played a quick pass back to Jordan Morris. Morris was tripped up by a Panama tackle and ultimately unable to get off a shot.

Another chance didn’t come until the 59th minute when winger Jonathan Lewis attempted to make his impact on the match. Lewis made a move into the penalty box, on the back end of some sustained U.S. possession, and slotted a pass into Altidore, who wasn’t able to get off a shot. The ball cycled out of the 18-yard box and was crossed back into Lewis for a header, but he was off the mark.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter made the move that most United States fans hoped to see, subbing on Christian Pulisic for Lewis.

As if by magic, the USMNT scored almost immediately following Pulisic’s entry. In the 67th minute, Matt Miazaga headed a Djordje Mihailovic corner kick back in front of the goal and off two Panamanian defenders. Altidore came back to the ball and fired home a bicycle kick from a yard outside the goal line, giving the U.S. a lead it would not relinquish.

U.S. newcomer Tyler Boyd entered the match for Morris in the 70th minute but was unable to make much of an impact during his 20 minutes.

In the 76th minute, right back Reggie Cannon gave the U.S. it’s next chance, leading a break up the field and drawing a free kick right outside the penalty box. Panama’s Kevin Galan received a yellow card for his foul on Cannon, and after a brief argument between what seemed like the entire Panamanian team and the referee, Altidore sent the free kick about 10 yards over the goal.

Altidore’s shift, and audition for a starting slot, ended in the 83rd minute with a substitution for Zardes. The Crew forward did not have any opportunities on goal during his short appearance, leaving Berhalter with a difficult starting decision to make in the first match of the knockout round.

Panama had it’s best chance to tie the match in the 89th minute when Fidel Escobar hit a shot from outside the 18-yard box that sent goalkeeper Sean Johnson into a full sprawl as he watched the ball sail wide of the goal

The referee blew the whistle three minutes later, indicating the United States won it’s Gold Cup group with a perfect nine points from three wins.

Performances

Cannon was a standout in this match, providing width and pace as a wing back and occasionally tucking centrally in the role most expected Tyler Adams to play before an injury knocked him out of the team. It would not be a surprise to see Cannon start the next match in place of Nick Lima.

Columbus’ Wil Trapp did not have much of an impact on the match despite playing 90 minutes. Trapp was asked to play much less of a ball-circulating role than he has with Berhalter in the past but did make a few timely tackles.

Progress

The USMNT finished the group stage with a U.S. best-ever goal differential of +11 and giving up zero goals during the group stage for the first time since 2007. The team had an easy path out of the group but certainly passed their test, though against middling opposition.

This side of the bracket provides what should be a clear path to the final for the United States. First up, the USMNT travel to Philadelphia on Sunday, June 30, to play Curacao at 9:30 p.m. ET. Should the team win that match, the USMNT will face the winner of Jamaica and Panama on July 3 in Nashville.