And the funny thing is, I hate Van Halen a lot.
Anyone else picture Barack Obama and John McCain watching this together, with Obama talking up Brian Ching constantly and telling McCain his team are a bunch of hacks? No, obviously no one did, it's a stupid premise and doesn't deserve consideration.
So, what did we learn?
This won't make me popular, but big freaky ups to Bradley and his preparation for this game. Unlike fans, who are ready to storm embassies, send the Navy to retake the Canal and generally party like it's 1989, the coaching staff saw exactly how Panama wants to play, and got the players' heads in the right place. They didn't lose their cool, they didn't retaliate, they stayed focused and won the game. This is the sort of game to remember when we fantasize about sending guys out to hack down fools in the closing minutes. We want a reputation for honesty...if only to make our dives look more plausible.
No, I'm not thrilled that it took overtime to beat Central America's fifth best team at home. And yes, technically this was the same result that Mexico embarrassed themselves getting, what with there being no overtime in group play.
But this was an unusually good Panama team, historically speaking, and we were fielding an unusually unimpressive team for this tournament, recent historically speaking. I'm not sure that Panama wouldn't have done better actually trying to play soccer rather than hackball - some of those players are really good. They stunk it up in the second half because their game plan didn't work, and their game plan was to go Guatemala until the US lost its cool. Except that's not even working for Guatemala anymore. Gary Stempel lost this game before kickoff.
And now, for the real point of this tournament, from the US point of view - rounding out the World Cup roster. (That, by the way, is the reason that the US win is more impressive than you probably think, and why I wasn't excited about Canada playing well in their group. The Hexagonal teams are using this tournament for reasons besides simply winning. Canada and Panama had nothing better to do than win, and went all out. Okay, yes, it will still be notable if Guadaloupe wins the Gold Cup.) (By the way, the one tournament where the teams could have used a third place game, for scouting and training purposes, doesn't have one. Thanks, Jack Warner.)
So who helped themselves?
I know you're not supposed to judge players by one play, and I also know choosing players based on "heart" and "grit" is a great way to go three and out with no goals scored. But for me Stuart Holden won his place on the World Cup roster when he headed the ball to Ching for the perfect setup, knowing he was going to get his clock absolutely cleaned by Baloy.
Then there's Kyle Beckerman, making Don Garber look like a clairvoyant with his Commissioner's Pick. I'm not going to say he's a favorite to make the roster, since the only place we're more comfy at than d-mid is goalkeeper. But he put himself in the conversation, and that's all you can ask from this Gold Cup after that Confederations Cup.
Chad Marshall looked pretty dumb on Perez' goal, but at least he'll have one more game minimum to redeem himself. I think he's also going to get invited to Camp Cull next January, but I also think that as a defender he's going to have, shall we say, significant competition. At least Marshall and Clarence Goodson put the goal, and Conrad's frightening injury, behind them.
Robbie Rogers has had a good tournament, but had a quiet game against Panama. You shouldn't hold one game against a player, except sadly, tournament play is all about being judged on one game. The good news is, we all know he can do better, and the Honduras game is an eminently fair test.
I'm just going to be a jerk about it and say right now Cooper and Arnaud have improved to the status of late, regrettable cuts. At least Freddy Adu is out of the way. But they're not just competing against Altidore, Davies and Ching. They're competing against the temptation to move Donovan or Dempsey up top if something goes wrong with those three. Cooper isn't terribly versatile, and Arnaud is over four years older than Quaranta. They're having a good Gold Cup, but they probably need to have a great one.
Troy Perkins has been fine, but...okay, here's the thing. I think Arena had the right idea about third keepers - you need a veteran who has seen every damn thing in the world and won't crumble under the kind of disaster that sees a third-string keeper thrown into the World Cup. So if Perkins is going to the World Cup, he's going ahead of Brad Guzan. Third keeper should probably be someone like...well, like Kasey Keller. Bob Bradley may feel differently, and take both Guzan and Perkins, since the odds suggest both guys will see the same amount of playing time anyway so why worry? But I don't think Troy Perkins has done anything to make people forget Matt Reis, let alone Guzan. (He sure taught that Robles kid what for, though.)
So, the real bonus for the US national team is the opportunity to play another game. That's good for everyone - well, except Houston, Columbus, Dallas and Salt Lake, who get another week without their best players. Especially Salt Lake. They at least get Cooperless Dallas next week, but they had Marshallless, Rogersless and Schelottoless Crew this weekend, and got nowhere fast. Cap Lenhart now!