The Gregg Berhalter era is officially underway, and it began with a win. Berhalter became the first head coach to earn a win in his first game in charge of the United States since Bob Bradley with a 3-0 win over Panama. Djordje Mihailovic scored in the first half, Walker Zimmerman and Christian Ramirez scored late, and the U.S. defense held strong in front of a small crowd in Arizona.
Berhalter’s shape differed when the team was in possession than when the Yanks were defending. With the ball, it looked like a 3-4-3. Aaron Long, Daniel Lovitz, and Zimmerman made up the back three. Gyasi Zardes was the center forward, with Corey Baird and Jeremy Ebobisse on the wings. Mihailovic regularly made runs up top, which led to the opening goal of the game. When defending, all the players dropped back some, and it looked more like a 4-4-2.
January camps are famous for giving players opportunities, and this was no different. Berhalter gave seven players their first cap today — Ramirez, Nick Lima, Jonathan Lewis, Baird, Ebobisse, Daniel Lovitz, and Mihailovic. Michael Bradley was in the starting XI, but Long captained the Americans.
The game started out pretty slowly. It was clear that this was a group of players that had never played together before, in a system that was brand new. There were lots of quick passes, and the ball often moved horizontally across the field.
A vital part of the game plan was finding Zardes up top. The striker repeatedly got the ball, both at his feet and to his head, but he struggled to get shots on target. His first chance was in the eighth minute. Ebobisse put an out swinging cross into the box right on top of Zardes’ head, but the Columbus Crew forward couldn’t get it on the frame.
It looked like the exact same play 30 minutes later. The only difference was Lovitz put the cross in instead of Ebobisse. Again, Zardes headed the ball wide of the post.
One of the players to make a difference in the match was Cristian Roldan. He made good decisions on the ball and was regularly in the action. In the eighth minute, he could have had the Yanks up 1-0, but was too selfish. Bradley got the ball to Roldan, who should have played a through ball to Baird. Baird had made an excellent run to get behind the Panama defense, but Roldan tried a shot instead. The ball fell harmlessly into Eddie Roberts’ hands.
The opening goal came in the 40th minute. Mihailovic put the ball in the back of the net, but it was a simple goal from him. Baird ran down the right wing, and one-touch passed it across the box to Mihailovic for the opening goal of the Berhalter era.
The U.S. dominated the first half. The Yanks finished with 62% possession and 10 total shots. However, just two of the 10 shots were on target. Zack Steffen did not have much work to do and only made one save.
The second half was less eventful than the first until late. Steffen was forced into action in the 57th minute. Edson Samms was one-on-one with the ‘keeper, but the U.S. Male Player of the Year showed why he is the first-choice goalkeeper.
Aside from that save, the half was uneventful. Zardes missed a few more chances, and it was made clear that he needs more work to become a USMNT regular. He worked well off the ball, but he missed at least four chances that he should have buried.
The biggest positive from the U.S. might be on defense. Sure, this Panama side was not the most lethal. Still, the U.S. rarely gave away any chances, and Panama only had one good chance on goal.
In the 80th minute, Zimmerman doubled the Americans’ lead. While the defender will be on the scoresheet, this play was created all from Lima. The San Jose Earthquakes defender first forced a turnover and stole the ball with a tackle that broke up a Panama counter. He then put in a perfect cross to Zimmerman, and the U.S. went up 2-0.
Nine minutes later, Ramirez added a third goal. Jonathan Lewis created some space off a nifty move. He crossed the ball into the box, and Ramirez just had to pass the ball into the back of the net.
The Americans finished the game with 66% possession and looked comfortable throughout. The Yanks outshot Panama 17-10 (6-4 on target), had five more corners (8-3) and were the better team. There is much work ahead for the U.S., but this was a great start to a new era.
The U.S. will be back in action on Saturday, Feb, 2, when the Yanks take on Costa Rica in San Jose.