US beats Panama 3-0 in Berhalter’s debut as coach
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Gregg Berhalter became only the third U.S. coach in the modern era to start with a win, Djordje Mihailovic and Christian Ramirez scored in their national team debuts and the Americans beat Panama 3-0 Sunday night in an exhibition between nations that started inexperienced lineups.
Walker Zimmerman also scored for the U.S., which used a roster of players all from Major League Soccer and drew just 9,040, its smallest for a home game since October 2016.
Seven U.S. players made debuts, including five starters — the most since in the starting lineup since Sept. 3, 1992, at Canada.
Mihailovic was joined by fellow newcomers Corey Baird and Jeremy Ebobisse in the midfield, and outside backs Nick Lima and Daniel Lovitz also made debuts. Jonathan Lewis and Ramirez made debuts in the second half. The only veterans were 31-year-old midfielder Michael Bradley and 27-year-old forward Gyasi Zardes.
Mihailovic put the U.S. ahead in the 40th minute from just inside the penalty area off a cross from Baird.
Zimmerman scored his second goal in five appearances in the 80th minute, knocking in a header from about 7 yards after Nick Lima intercepted a pass after Panama started a counter following a U.S. corner kick.
Ramirez tapped in a cross from Lewis in the 89th.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen wasn’t tested much in the first half but got out his left hand to block Edson Samms’ close-range shot 10 minutes into the second half. Sean Johnson replaced Steffen with about 15 minutes to go.
Thirty Americans players have made debuts in 13 matches since the October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, just six fewer debuts than in 62 matches during the entire 2014-17 World Cup cycle.
Bruce Arena quit as coach after the defeat in Trinidad and was replaced on an interim basis by Dave Sarachan, his top assistant. Berhalter, a former American defender, was hired last month as U.S. coach from MLS’s Columbus Crew. He joined Bora Milutinovic in 1991 and Bob Bradley in 2007 as the only Americans to win their debuts since the U.S. returned to the world stage in the late 1980s.
The 45-year-old Berhalter was a member of the 2002 and ’06 World Cup teams and became the first American to coach the national team after playing for it at the World Cup.
He made a surprise pick as captain, choosing defender Aaron Long in his third international appearance rather than Bradley in his 143rd.
Panama was coming off a last-place finish in its first World Cup appearance and gave six players debuts in its starting lineup, which including only a pair of veterans, captain Fidel Escobar and defender Abdiel Arroyo.
Berhalter promised a pressing style and the Americans lived up to it. His team plays again with the all-MLS roster against Costa Rica next Saturday in San Jose, California, involve only players from Major League Soccer. He won’t have his full player pool until March exhibitions and the first competitive matches under Berhalter will be at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June.
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