USNMT suffered a hammer blow in Copa America 2024, going down 2-1 to a plucky Panama team

Balogun is the second USMNT player to score in consecutive Copa América appearances after Clint Dempsey

USA were left dumbfounded in their backyard as they were nipped 2-1 by a plucky Panama team to leave their quarter-final hopes in the balance of the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 at the Mercedes-Benz on Thursday. Folarin Balogun, in his second start of the tournament, collected a neat give-and-go with Antonee Robinson; Balogun caressed the return pass expertly before slamming home a left-footed shot from the left side for a 1-0 lead. César Blackman restored parity with a right-footed shot from outside the box through a sea of white shirts to the bottom right corner past a stunned Matt Turner, assisted by Huston Dynamo’s Adalberto Carrasquilla. José Fajardo drove the final nail in USA's coffin with a well-taken right-footed shot to seal a 2-1 victory.

Weston McKennie thought he had the United States National Men’s Team off to a flyer, but his goal was chalked off by VAR as Time Ream, who made the final pass, was deemed to be in an offside position when he made the pass in the 7th minute. Things got ugly for USNMT in the 17th minute when Timothy Weah was red-carded for violent conduct on Rodrick Miller of Panama.  

Tim Weah
Panama v United States - CONMEBOL Copa America USA 2024 / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

“It’s a shame because there was more in this game,” U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter said. “Suddenly, this snap decision by Timmy, now that leaves us short-handed, and then you have the whole thing that’s moving with the referee throughout the game, so it led to some strange, strange circumstances for sure.” 

Shell, shocked by that strange decision, USNMT shrugged it off and took the lead courtesy of Folarin Balogun, who has now scored two from as many starts. Michael Murillo was trying to pass the ball out from the back when Fulham Antonee Robinson took off in a flash to intercept the pass before it reached the wide player Ceasar Blackman and turned defense into attack. He charged forward like a house on fire, connecting nicely with Balogun on the edge of the box. Balogun then took a touch before unleashing a thunderbolt past Panama custodian Orlando Mosquera.  Folarin Balogun scored his fifth international career goal. This was Balogun’s second consecutive match, marking his first time scoring in back-to-back matches for the USMNT.

Panama bounces back to tie the game before the euphoria could die and the smoke clear. Blackman picked up a ball from the edge of the box and pulled the trigger, but his effort was blocked by the ever-present Crystal Palace standout defender Chris Richards. The rebound fell kindly back to the feet of Blackman, who took a second bite of the cherry to tie the score at 1-1.  

With a man short, USMNT reverted to a 4-4-1 formation to try to stifle the flurry of attack being thrown at them by Panama. That adjustment by coach Greg Berhalter worked in his favor as he restricted Panama to zero shots on target for the remainder of the half. During the run of play leading up to the end of the first half, it was UNMT who got the best chance to go ahead as Balogun hit the upright from merely the same spot he scored his opening goal in the 45th minute, but this time the angle of the shot caused the ball to bounce back into play. The half ended 1-1 with both coaches with much to consider.  

Berhalter shuffled his deck of cards and ruffled the feathers of his team before making a few changes. Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath replaced Matt Turner, who picked up a knock early in the first half. Center-back Cameron Carter-Vickers replaced the winded Tyler Adams, and midfielder Johnny Cardoso replaced Gio Reyna, who one would suspect had a miserable first half. All three players were introduced to start the second half. The U.S. switched to a 5-3-1 to preserve at least a point from the match.  

In the 62nd minute, all USA supporters went silent as referee Cisneros Barton of El Salvador awarded a penalty kick to Panama, suggesting that Carter-Vickers fouled Jose Fajardo in the 18-yard box. VAR weighed in for the third time in the match and summoned Barton to take a second look at the play. After reviewing the matter, Barton overruled himself and ruled there was no foul and no penalty. 

Ricardo Pepi, who was subbed on in the 72nd minute for Balogun, came close to scoring the go-ahead goal in the 82nd minute. Weston McKennie served up a teasing cross, which found a leaping Pepi at the back post, but His tame header from close range was gobbled up comfortably by Mosquera in goal for Panama.  

A minute later, Panama recycled the ball after winning several sharp duels in the USA's final third and then put them to the sword when José Fajardo swept home a right-footed shot from a cross that was whipped in by Abdiel Ayarza from the right flank. The piercing shot from close range went like a rocket through Horvath’s butter fingers. 

“We didn’t deal with the first ball very well; we didn’t deal with the second ball very well, and then too much space between our center backs and off the cross,” Berhalter said. “Besides that, we’re talking about minimal production from Panama and a tremendous effort by the guys.” 

A game marred with controversies had the fans with their heads in their hands in the 88th minute when Coco Carrasquilla was shown a straight red card for deliberately hacking down Pulisic from behind. Two more Panama players received yellow cards for cynical tackles as they tried to disrupt the USNMT and drove forward in search of the equalizer. 

It was another tough day for USNMT at the office. They suffered their second defeat from Panama in recent years and second loss in Atlanta at a major tournament after being beaten 2-1 by Jamaica in Concacaf Gold Cup 2015.  

This defeat put the USA in a bit of a pickle to advance out of its group. The USA will play title favorite Uruguay, who slammed Bolivia 5-0 last night. This means Panama, which is on 3 points, the same as the USA, will play Bolivia, one of the weakest teams in this group, in their final group match.  As the football Gods would say, "The ball is round and favors no one," so it's all to play for in the final group stage game.