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U.S. soccer notebook: Bradley scores Olimpico, Hedges debuts, Ibarra gets first start

Goal runs down a few of the stories which emerged from the United States' 2-0 win against Panama on Sunday.

CARSON, Calif. — The U.S. defeated Panama 2-0 at StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon. Here are three storylines that emerged from the win:

Olympics to Olimpico

The United States’ winter camp started with discussions about Olympic players being called in and ended with chatter surrounding Michael Bradley’s stunning Olimpico.

Bradley already had hit a number of free kicks confidently in the first half, and his corner kick in the 27th minute was no different. This one, however, found the mark.

Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who was capped Sunday by the Canaleros for the 100th time, said he was focusing his attention on the players who were at the near post and also said it was the first time he had allowed an Olimpico in his career. Still, his manager didn’t find him at fault for the goal.

“He put it where nobody could get it. It’s an Olimpico,” Hernan Gomez said in his post-match news conference, before noting that there shouldn’t be blame to place for allowing such a goal.

Gomez’s opposite number, Jurgen Klinsmann, confirmed that overloading the front post was the strategy and said there had been some set-piece work on the training ground during camp.

“We wanted to hit those balls right on the first post because Penedo is not the tallest. We had three guys standing there with Brek Shea, Gyasi (Zardes) and Jozy Altidore, and it's kind of a little bit tricky,” Klinsmann said in his news conference after the match. “Then he hits the ball a little bit higher and it goes in at the second post. The presence of those guys on the line, they provoke these kinds of situations and kind of gamble on it and it was worth it.

“Still, he needs to train those to hit them right in front of the goal there. It's not that easy to bring it right in with precision.”

Bradley dismissed the idea that perhaps he’d overhit the ball, missing the target players and getting lucky with the kick after the match, but did credit the players for drawing Penedo’s attention.

“We’ve worked a lot on set pieces in the last six months or year,” the goal scorer said. “One of the ways that we try to put real pressure on the goalkeeper is lining up a few guys right on the goal line there and see if whoever’s serving the ball if they can curl one right in on top of everybody. Obviously today the guys in and around the goalie did a great job, the ball was not bad and I got a goal from it.”

Hedges looking right

It looked like it would be another disappointing offseason for FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges after Klinsmann released another roster without his name on it. But when Brad Evans had to leave camp with an injury, Hedges got the call to join the U.S. and got his first cap Sunday as he played the final 18 minutes of the match.

“It was really exciting. [Klinsmann[ told us to go warm up and I knew I was going to be getting in. I was buzzing, I was ready,” he said. “He told me I was going in at right back. Not what I was expecting, but make the most of it and just get on the field.”

Typically playing in the middle of the back line, Hedges had to adjust on the fly. Tottenham signing DeAndre Yedlin had just received treatment and the U.S. pulled him out of the match (after the match the substitution was described as precautionary with Yedlin set to be evaluated Monday).

“I mean, it’s defender, he told me to just play simple and do what I do,” Hedges said of the unfamiliar role. “That’s what I did, so 20 minutes, I thought it was a good debut.”

The 24-year-old feels that now that he has been into a camp and shown Klinsmann what he offers, his chances of getting more caps are higher.

“I think I impressed during the camp and hopefully he feels the same way and keeps bringing me in. I think I can do great things,” he said.

Starting fresh

Miguel Ibarra and Gyasi Zardes made their first starts for the Stars and Stripes in Sunday’s victory. Zardes starred and was awarded U.S. Soccer’s official Man of the Match award, but the Minnesota United midfielder had more of a mixed performance.

Ibarra became the first NASL player to start for the national team since 1985. The midfielder didn’t score but did find himself free a number of times and did enough to earn praise from his manager.

“He's growing in this group. Every time he comes in now, he's a regular even more, and he proved that in every training session,” Klinsmann said when asked about Ibarra in his post-match news conference. “He has an endless engine. He's very smart tactically. He helps out defensively and he always has an eye on the forwards and he himself, as he shows with his club, he can finish things as well if he's in position. 

“I think he's done a very, very good job again. He's totally a respected part of this group now, so it's nice to see the process over half a year.”

One of the veterans, midfielder Clint Dempsey, also praised Ibarra’s ‘engine’ when asked about the 24-year-old’s progress.

“He was fit as soon as he came into camp, was always giving everything he had,” Dempsey said. “Today I think he showed the engine that he had on breakaways, putting them under pressure and helping create chances for us.

“It’s just about getting a little bit more experience for both Gyasi and him, but they’re great players that came in and made a difference in the game today.”