PANAMA CITY, Panama, Mar 29 – United States coach Bruce Arena accused Panama of targeting teenage star Christian Pulisic after a rugged CONCACAF World Cup qualifying battle ended in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday.
Clint Dempsey scored his fourth goal in two games to give the US a precious point on the road as they aim to get their World Cup qualification campaign back on track under Arena following the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann in November.
Dempsey, who scored a hat-trick on his return to international football against Honduras last week, tucked away a 39th-minute goal after a superb run by Borussia Dortmund’s Pulisic.
But American hopes of an away victory to follow last week’s 6-0 drubbing of Honduras were dashed after they conceded a soft equaliser through Gabriel Gomez on 43 minutes.
Arena said afterwards he was satisfied with the result and pleased with the performance of Pulisic, 18, who was on the receiving end of some uncompromising challenges throughout.
“Panama thought there was a bullseye on his back and they went after him from the first minute all the way through,” Arena said of Pulisic.
“He has to learn that the referee won’t always protect him. But he did well and he came through it.
“(Pulisic) plays in a big league with a big club team and a big competition. It’s part of the process I think. Probably players are better protected in his club competition.
“It’s all part of the learning curve for him. Next time round will be better for him.”
Pulisic had created the opening US goal, twisting and turning his way cleverly past Panama captain Felipe Baloy and Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres before laying off for Dempsey to finish.
But that moment of magic was cancelled out shortly afterwards when a long throw into the US penalty area sowed confusion and the American defence failed to clear the danger.
The loose ball fell kindly to Gomez who jabbed home his finish past Tim Howard.
US chances were thin on the ground thereafter, and Panama came closest to scoring the game’s next goal midway through the second half.
Torres knocked down for Luis Tejada in the American area and only a superb reflex save from Tim Howard denied Panama a goal.
Tejada had another half-chance in the closing stages, but blasted his shot high over the bar after being played into space by Luis Ovalle.
The draw left Panama in third place in the CONCACAF qualifying standings with five points from four games. The US are fourth with four points from four games.
– Mexico in control –
Mexico tightened their grip on the “Hexagonal” standings with a 1-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain.
A maiden international goal from Diego Reyes sealed all three points for Mexico, who remain unbeaten at the top of the six-team qualifying competition for North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Mexico now have 10 points from four games, leading from Costa Rica, who could only manage a draw against last placed Honduras on Tuesday.