For one of the few times so far in the Jurgen Klinsmann era, the United States turned out a dominant performance and swept aside an inferior opponent, handling Panama with a 2-0 scoreline. Just about every player who started the match made positive and meaningful contributions to the victory, a rarity at any level of the game.
Let's take a few moments to go over some positives and make a few declarations.
Man of the Match
It has to be Geoff Cameron. Filling in for the injured Jermaine Jones, Cameron's partnership in the middle with Michael Bradley was seen as a key factor in the outcome of the evening' contest. That analysis was spot on, and Cameron rose to the challenge. He had the assist on Eddie Johnson's goal, dropping an amazing cross-field ball right on a dime in the perfect spot for Johnson to control and bear down on goal. He was clean with the ball (83% pass completion rate) and stood tall as a member of the defensive unit when dropping deep. Compared to his performance at right-back against Belgium, Geoff looked like a completely different player.
Jozy's Hot Streak
Jozy Altidore is officially red-hot. He's coming off of a club season where he scored 31 goals in 41 appearances, and now, after an open-play goal drought of nearly two years with the national team, he's scored in each of his last three appearances. Tonight's goal was just an excellent team effort, but it also displayed Altidore's intelligence with his far-post run and his instinctive finishing ability.
Throughout the evening, Jozy did an incredible job of combining with Clint Dempsey, something that bodes well for the Yanks in the future. They were totally in-sync, creating chances for each other and the rest of the squad with slick passing combinations, lay-offs, and back-heels.
The Heart and Soul of the Yanks
Looking at the squad as it stands now, the most important players in the team seem pretty obvious: Dempsey and Bradley. The two of them are among the most talented soccer players to ever wear the USA colors, and their performances are generally key to the national team's success. Both players were solid on the night, with Bradley involved in nearly everything - including the first goal - and Dempsey a constant threat and creative presence in the attack. However, what is most notable about tonight's result is that the two of them were not forced to become the alpha and the omega of the States' game plan. Players like Altidore, Cameron, the Johnsons, and Beasley stepped up and took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Does this prove that the USA can make it without Dempsey and Bradley? Of course not. What it does show, though, is that the whole of the pressure is not on that pair's shoulders. If Bradley is having an off night, or if Dempsey is being marked out of the game, there is talent on this United States squad that can step up to fill the gap.
"We're Going to Brazil"
The second-half chant from the Seattle fans was inspiring, if a bit premature, but after this win and the other results around CONCACAF, it certainly seems as though the States' path to World Cup 2014 is much clearer. The U.S. is top of the Hex at the moment with ten points from five matches. Three of their next five games are at home. The Yanks' traditional rivals, Mexico, have played six matches, and only two of their remaining fixtures are at home. Jamaica is probably done, for all intents and purposes, and Panama also has a remaining schedule laced with away fixtures.
On the broadcast, Ian Darke said that the magic number of points for qualifying is usually 16. The Yanks are just two wins away from that number. Qualification isn't assured, but it's looking more and more likely every day.