thumbnail Hello,

USA vs. Panama: The good, the bad and the ugly

The U.S. ended its recent winless streak with a win over CONCACAF rival Panama at the StubHub Center.

The U.S. men's national team recorded a victory for the first time since Sept. 3, ending a five-match winless run. With the January camp over, the players will now return to their clubs, many to start the new Major League Soccer season, leaving coach Jurgen Klinsmann with plenty to ponder.

Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Sunday’s match:

The Good

The stars shone brightly: Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are still the USA's most important players, and both capped good performances with goals. Bradley's "golazo Olimpico" directly from a corner kick was an especially tasty strike. U.S. captain Dempsey is unlikely to still be a starter in the next World Cup, where he'll be 35, but he should still be the team's biggest offensive threat for this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup and next year's Copa America Centernario.

Zardes slots right in: 23-year-old LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes got his first national team start, and impressed in his home stadium. His perfectly timed and immaculately weighted assist for Clint Dempsey came after several dangerous moments. Two-footed, athletic and able to play wide or up top, Zardes could soon become a fixture in U.S. squads.

The Bad

Altidore leaves with hamstring problem: The USA doesn't really have a readymade replacement player for striker Jozy Altidore, who scored last game against Chile and had several dangerous flashes in his 45 minutes against Panama. So him leaving the game at halftime with a potential hamstring problem, the same injury that ended his World Cup in Brazil, is a worrying development – even if it was just a precaution.

The Ugly

Klinsmann's puzzling choices: First off, where was the 3-5-2? The players in this January camp were obviously selected with a 3-5-2 in mind, and the U.S. impressed with that formation in the first half against Chile. So why revert to a 4-4-2, and clip the wings of attacking-minded players like DeAndre Yedlin and Brek Shea? Yes, the U.S. won, but a win over Panama is expected.

And where was Lee Nguyen? Nothing minor-leaguer Miguel Ibarra offered came close to the best form we've seen from the New England Revolution playmaker. While some argued that Nguyen should be allowed to run the offense, Klinsman limited him to a late cameo.

Finally, is there really anything more that can be learned from giving another friendly cap to 32-year-old Chris Wondolowski? The San Jose striker already has plenty of experience, and by now, Klinsmann should know his strengths and weaknesses. When forced to change at halftime, the U.S. coach made a lazy choice that left unexamined talents like Nguyen, Wil Trapp and Luis Gil on the bench.