CARSON, Calif. (AP) –– Michael Bradley put a corner kick into the net in the 27th minute, and the United States snapped a five-game winless skid with a 2-0 victory over Panama on Sunday.
Clint Dempsey scored his 40th career goal later in the first half for the Americans, who wrapped up a monthlong training camp with their best result in 10 games since winning their opener at last year’s World Cup.
The U.S. had won just once since beating Ghana in Brazil, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad looked considerably sharper in its home opener for a big year that includes the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson replaced Nick Rimando for the second half, finishing up the Americans’ first shutout since their last victory, over the Czech Republic last September.
Gyasi Zardes, the LA Galaxy forward, punctuated his first career U.S. start by making a beautiful pass to set up Dempsey’s score in the 37th minute.
The Americans improved on last month’s 3-2 loss in Chile while showing none of the second-half struggles that have prompted coach Jurgen Klinsmann to question their fitness. The U.S. had yielded nine goals in the second halves of its last six games, but held Panama to a handful of good chances all day at StubHub Center south of downtown Los Angeles.
Panama had little offensive luck against the U.S. in their first meeting since the Americans scored two stoppage-time goals to knock the Panamanians out of World Cup contention in heartbreaking fashion in October 2013. Panama has beaten the Americans just once in 15 meetings, losing six straight.
After experimenting with a three-man back line in Chile, Klinsmann started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Southern California natives Zardes and Miguel Ibarra got their first career starts, and Brek Shea moved back to defense to compensate for the absence of Steve Birnbaum, who has a minor knee injury.
Defenders Perry Kitchen and Matt Hedges made their U.S. debuts in the second half, coming on for Max Diskerud and DeAndre Yedlin. Midfielder Luis Gil came on late for his second career appearance.
A few fans unhappy with Klinsmann made their feelings known behind the south goal with banners reading “JK OUT” and “Red Card the Coach.” Yet after a tentative start, Klinsmann’s team showed off decent chemistry in the first half, capped by two beautiful goals.
Bradley started it with a spectacular Olimpico goal, putting his corner kick directly into the far top corner of Penedo’s net with an exceptional bend. Jozy Altidore could have headed it in if needed, but instead watched it settle for Bradley’s 13th career goal.
Zardes then created a goal by winning a ball at midfield, dribbling and feeding a perfect pass forward to Dempsey, who sidestepped Penedo and finished. The Seattle Sounders star is the second-leading goal-scorer in U.S. history.
Altidore played an active first half up front, but came off at halftime with hamstring soreness. Chris Wondolowski replaced him, missing a handful of golden scoring chances and getting into numerous scraps with Panamanian defenders.
Before the match, Panama honored goalkeeper Jaime Penedo for his 100th appearance. The LA Galaxy netminder got a big ovation from his home fans.
The U.S. men return in late March with games in Denmark and Switzerland.
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