Updated: Dec 24, 2020
This international camp was different from the beginning because head coach Gregg Berhalter wanted to get the young players as much time as possible with Sebastian Lletget and Tim Ream being the “senior members” in the squad. The first match against Wales was a wash both literally and on the scoreboard as the game ended in a 0-0 draw, but there were encouraging signs from the young Yanks.
On Monday, the US men faced off against old CONCACAF foe Panama in Austria, and the sparks were flying from early on. Panama struck first on a goal from Jose Fajardo off his head from a brilliant cross by Alejandro Yearwood in the seventh minute. Matt Miazga might’ve been able to step up and prevent the goal, but for whatever reason (he lost his mark, he didn’t wanna concede a penalty, etc), the goal went past Zack Steffen.
Unfortunately for the Central American side, this only spurred the US on. They were sharp and, as the Brits say, “bright in front of goal.” Before conceding, the US had only one shot, and it went over the bar. In the 17th minute, after Yunus Musah won a free kick at the top of the box, birthday boy Giovanni Reyna slipped his first goal in the stars and stripes into the bottom right corner of the goal. It was a great moment for him to score on the day he turned 18. Reyna is somewhat of a “legacy” player since he is the only player to have both his mother and father play for the United States.
Following the Reyna goal, the USMNT did not let up and continued to pile on the pressure. New face Uly Llanez sent a strong shot that ricocheted off keeper Orlando Mosquera in the 21st minute, and another new player sent it home. This was the first United States goal for Nicholas Gioacchini as he slotted it home from a few feet out. They don’t have to be pretty for them to count as long as they cross the line. Gioacchini wasn’t finished as he headed home a pass from Miazga during a corner kick in the 28th minute. It’s safe to say that Nicholas was feeling pretty good about his day as he was 2/3 of the way to a first half hattrick, but 45 minutes finished with the US ahead of Panama by a score of 3-1.
The second half was just as strong as the first for the Americans. Tyler Adams was replaced by Johnny and Llanez was subbed out for Timothy Weah. The passing was crisp and creative. It truly was a joy to watch the US play like this. Then came the penalty in the 64th minute for a handball in the box on Panama defender Oscar Linton. Gioacchini stepped up to complete his hattrick, but it was not to be. He faked to his right, sent it down the middle, but Mosquera was there to make the seemingly easy save. In the 67th minute, Reyna was subbed for another newbie Richy Ledezma making his first appearance. The game had become rather chippy in the second half, and fouls from both sides were coming left and right. Gioacchini’s night ended in the 76th minute when he was replaced by yet another new player Sebastian Soto. Simultaneously, Musah was replaced by Lletget. Perhaps these players left some magic on the field because the goals did not stop.
In the 78th minute, in a sequence that saw Panama given advantage after a foul, Fajardo took a through ball into the center of the box that had the entire US back line screaming for offside; however, with no VAR, the flag stayed down, and Fajardo beat Steffen to the top corner of the box to make the score 3-2 in favor of the red, white, and blue. Miazga was subbed out after that to make was for, you guessed it, another new face in Chris Richards in the 79th minute. With time winding down, the game was still up in the air, until two of the new faces linked up for the fourth goal in the 82nd minute. Ledezma sent in a beautiful cross into the center of the box, and Soto had the presence of mind to step in front of the center back to head home his first goal for his nation. He truly showed a poacher’s nose for goal in that moment. Richards missed a header wide moments later, and in the 86th minute, Reggie Cannon took a short corner and sent in a nice ball to Lletget to head home to extend the lead to 5-2.
Then in the 90th minute, after an absolutely beautiful passing sequence by the Yanks, Ledezma and Soto hooked up one final time as the striker completed his brace with a header into the side netting. It was honestly one of the most impressive sequences in recent history for the USMNT, and left the audience knowing that there would be more to come from this young side with Gold Cup, World Cup Qualifying, as well as Olympic Qualifying coming in 2021. The year is not finished as there will be a match against El Salvador on December 9 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where it is believed that Berhalter will rely on more of a domestic-based roster whereas this starting 11 against Panama was filled with all European-based players. Regardless of where they play for their clubs, it was very exciting and satisfying to see a roster without Christian Pulisic and Josh Sargent be so successful on the field and adding those two should only improve the squad.