That’s a Wrap: MNT vs. Panama – It was fun again… even if just for a moment

By Ryan Rosenblatt

The USMNT won. The young team looked good. It was downright exciting to watch.

Sometimes, it’s best to leave it at that.

Yes, the 3-0 win over Panama was the start of the Gregg Berhalter Era, in a Gold Cup year and the true start of a cycle that will culminate (hopefully, since we have to say that now) in the 2022 World Cup. It is really easy to take Man of the Match Nick Lima and call him the right back of the future, or Djordje Mihailovic’s strong showing and call him the #10 the U.S. has been looking for. You could take another dozen players and come up with what their performances mean for the Gold Cup or World Cup, Berhalter’s system too, and any number of other things. But you shouldn’t.

Panama played, at best, their B team. It was a January friendly with next to nobody near full fitness and the buzz was, well let’s say less than spectacular. Oh, and it was just a single match. Quite simply, those 90 minutes are not 90 minutes from which to draw conclusions, or even to to project out.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what everything means. That’s going to be especially true after missing the World Cup and spending 14 months aimless and in the wilderness. We have to get back to the World Cup, and we’re already running behind. But it doesn’t happen all at once. It definitely doesn’t happen in a January friendly.

What that match in Arizona was was fun. It was positive. It was downright cathartic. And that is something to celebrate.

Did you see the way Michael Bradley pinged a 40-yard ball to break the Panama defense? Or the way Lima’s assist started with a ferocious and inch-perfect tackle? How about the joy on Mihailovic’s face when he rang in his first ever cap with a goal?

The Nats had a plan, they played together, they knew what they were doing and were working towards something. The game mattered because it was part of something, even if on its own it didn’t mean everything.

And all of it came with a former U.S. player at the helm. The national team, and the sport in this country, has come so far that former players are now in a position to coach the nation they once pulled the kit on for.

It’s possible Mihailovic is the U.S. talisman at the 2022 World Cup. Just like it’s possible he never plays a competitive match for the team. And maybe Daniel Lovitz will be the left back at the Gold Cup, or maybe he doesn’t get another call-up. There’s no way to say right now because it was 90 non-competitive minutes.

What we can say is that we had fun. That it felt like our team. That it made us happy and proud. And for one day, one friendly at the start of a year, that’s enough. Hell, that’s everything.