Eddie Johnson More Brawny Than Brilliant, But Helps US Win Gold Cup Anyway, 1-0
FlaglerLive | July 28, 2013
It was not a beautiful performance by either Eddie Johnson, who put in all 95 minutes, or the U.S. Team, and the last minutes were marred by a brawl and several take-downs, but the United States managed to beat Panama, 1-0, for its 11th straight win and the biennial Gold Cup trophy, which it last won in 2007.
Brek Shea got the winning goal, by luck more than skill, as a cross from Alejandro Bedoya landed at Landon Donavan’s foot and Donavan misfired, leaving it to Shea to nudge it in. Shea had come in as a substitute about 14 seconds earlier. Johnson was instrumental in the genesis of that goal, having produced the break-away run down the left wing that opened the center of the field for his cross to the other side, where the team persisted through the Panamanian wall with quick short passes leading to Bedoya’s cross.
Johnson was also a factor in keeping the Panamanian defense off balance. He was double teamed again and again, reflecting his intimidation factor, and keeping the Panamanians on their heels.
Still, the lone goal was a surprise. Johnson’s play mirrored that of the team much of the time: he was on the ball a lot (the U.S. had possession three-quarters of the time), but he also chronically turned over the ball, appeared unable to win the one-on-one challenges to break through, and looked less than creative when he did have chances to make something happen. Then came the first shameful moment of the game for Johnson: in the 84th minute he took a perfect cross from Shea. He was three yards from goal, right in front of the net’s gaping mouth. He shot. Clear above the crossbar. A terrible miss of what should have been an easy goal, a 2-0 lead and Johnson’s third goal in three games. He looked dispirited after that, but it was only the culmination of an afternoon of frustrations for the new blond.
Worse was to come. At the 90th minute Johnson brought out the Bunnell in him.
A Panamanian player cleared a ball deep in Panamanian territory, shooting the ball out of play right from under Johnson’s nose. Johnson for some reason didn’t appreciate it. He approached the Panamanian, trash-talked him, then pulled a mini-Zidane: Johnson foreheaded the guy, a sort of prequel to a headbutt, literally putting his forehead against the Panamanian’s, which the Panamanian did not appreciate. Johnson then puts a hand on the guy, the guy swats it away as Johnson is looking behind him, probably to check where the refs’ prying eyes might be. Another, much bigger Panamanian intervenes and shoves Johnson. Shea jumps in between Johnson and the big Panamanian, and while Shea and big guy are going at it, Johnson, throwing caution to the Lake Michigan winds and with both hands, shoves the previous player, which under any circumstance should, and did, earn him a yellow card, his second in two games.
Dumb move on Johnson’s part, because he was not merely showing his rejuvenated skills in tournament play (he’s had his highs and lows), but rehearsing for Rio and the 2014 World Cup, and showing Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. coach, whether he can help carry the team along with Donavan and DeMarcus Beasley, the captain. Moves like that won’t help.
Earlier in the game Johnson had been taken down in a nasty move by a Panamanian. Johnson kept calm at the time. But he was planning his retaliation. He unleashed it in the 90th minute, marring an otherwise fair game. A couple of minutes later yet another Panamanian took him down as he was making a run down the left wing. Johnson this time was smarter. He used the occasion to eat up the clock. And moments later the same player attacked Shea, and got a yellow card for it. Shea did his own bit of retaliation less than a minute later, but just as the ref blew the final whistle, saving himself from a yellow.
The team played without Klinsmann, who’d himself been booted off the field in the closing minutes of the U.S.’s 3-1 semi-final win over Honduras, a game that showcased the team’s flair a lot more than Sunday’s match. Klinsmann doesn’t like his players used as punching bags, and that’s just what the Honduran players were doing, so he berated the ref and got shown the gate.
Sunday’s was the 11 straight win for the U.S. team, but don’t raise your hopes too much. “This is a lot different than a World Cup,” Donavan told an interviewer after the game, for good reason. Panama hasn’t once qualified for a World Cup, and the teams that the U.S. plays in its CONCACAF division are among the world’s weakest, which explains why North American and Caribbean teams rarely make it very far in the World Cup.
At this point though it’s difficult to imagine a U.S. team without Johnson. He may have to work much harder to maintain his spot as a starter, and show a bit more poise, but he might as well apply for that Brazilian visa.
The United States has hosted the Gold Cup since its inception in 1991, with two exceptions in 1993 and 2003, when it co-hosted with Mexico. The home-field advantage has worked in the United States’ favor, helping it to win the cup five times, and be a runner-up four times, including the previous two Gold Cups.