The play of defender Omar Gonzalez (pictured) was key to the USA's draw against host Panama in a World Cup qualifier on March 28, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: John Dorton/isiphotos.com)
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- The United States walked out of the Estadio Rommel Fernandez on Tuesday night with a sense of mission accomplished.
Although it lost a one-goal lead, the Americans managed to secure a 1-1 draw with host Panama and a precious away point in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
After opening the CONCACAF Hexagonal with two straight losses, the matchday four result left the U.S. (1W-1D-2L, 4 points) in fourth place.
“If we got six points we’d be on top of the world," goalkeeper Tim Howard commented, alluding to the 6-0 home win over visiting Honduras on Friday. "Four is good.”
U.S. head coach Bruce Arena was pleased with his defense as Tim Ream and Graham Zusi made their starting debuts of this qualifying cycle at center back and right back, respectively. Ream replaced John Brooks (illness), while Zusi took over for Geoff Cameron (injury). Omar Gonzalez and newcomer Jorge Villafaña also played the entire game.
“They did a good job,” remarked Arena about the backline. “They never played together before. For the most part they were pretty solid.
“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress every game in qualifying. We made a lot of progress and somehow managed to get through an unusual amount of injuries and those type of things. I give our players a lot of credit.
Gabriel Gomez poked home to equalize for Panama in the 43rd minute after Clint Dempsey gave the visitor the lead four minutes earlier. The 32-year-old Gomez, a thorn in the U.S. side for years, scored the game-winner in a 3-2 victory in the 2011 Gold Cup, the first time the Americans tasted defeat in a group-stage match on home soil.
The Americans’ quest for an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance resumes when they host Trinidad & Tobago on June 8 and visit Mexico on June 11.
“The remaining six games are going to be critical for every team," Arena finished. "Every team is in there. Mexico is on top of the group. They got a jump on everyone. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third and fourth spots."