US soccer hopes to end winless stretch when Panama visits
CARSON, Calif. (AP) Not much has gone right for the United States since the World Cup opener last year, and the Americans want to end their funk before the games that really matter.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's team has won just one of its last nine games since beating Ghana last summer in Brazil. The Americans have conceded a slew of disheartening late goals along the way, including two second-half scores in a 3-2 loss to Chile late last month.
Jozy Altidore hopes U.S. fans realize the scoreboard is a secondary concern at this point in a big year. The high-scoring forward still wants something to celebrate Sunday when the Americans take on Panama.
''I'm not saying it's OK that we haven't performed well,'' Altidore said Saturday. ''I'm not saying that we shouldn't be upset with ourselves, because we represent the country. But saying that, keeping that in mind, I think you have to look at what we're trying to do, the transformation, trying different players, and be patient with that.''
Panama's visit is the culmination of a monthlong training camp held around StubHub Center, south of downtown Los Angeles. Klinsmann has tinkered with new formations, introduced several new faces to his roster mix and lamented his players' fitness over the past four weeks, but the coach is hoping to finally see some results from all of their work.
''The guys worked very hard,'' Klinsmann said. ''They put everything in that camp they could. It's going to be exciting to get them out here. ... We want to start out with a win on our home soil. It will be fun.''
Klinsmann still has a few months to make final decisions before the biggest games. The CONCACAF Gold Cup starts in early July, with the U.S. hosting most of the matches, while World Cup qualifying begins in November.
But the current results are increasingly tough to ignore: The Americans are winless in five straight matches, and they've been outscored 9-0 in the second half of their last six games. While Klinsmann has said many MLS-based players aren't in top shape due to their comparatively lengthy offseason, the coach also has shuffled his lineup and experimented with a 3-5-2 formation.
Klinsmann must make another change after defender Steve Birnbaum was ruled out of Sunday's game with a minor knee injury. The D.C. United defender got his first career start in Chile at right back.
Nine players from last year's World Cup roster are available to Klinsmann, including veterans Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Altidore, who has praised the camp as a chance to get back in form after his dismal stint at Sunderland ended with a move to Toronto FC last month.
Altidore, who scored against Chile, has seen positive steps during the camp.
''Fans want to see progress always,'' Altidore said. ''We understand that as players, but at this moment specifically, you have to be patient. A lot of the guys are coming off six, seven weeks off, so we have to bear that in mind. But at the same time, we do have to produce some better soccer.''
The Americans hope to get their mojo back against an opponent that evokes fond recent memories.
The U.S. scored two stoppage-time goals in a World Cup qualifier in Panama City in October 2013, knocking Panama out of World Cup contention and saving Mexico's bid. Panama has beaten the Americans just once in 14 meetings, losing five straight.
''There's a lot of respect from our end,'' Klinsmann said. ''(Panama has) a very competitive group here, and they probably have a little bit still in their stomach to ... forget a day that was really a disaster for them. It will be a good challenge for us. It will be a good benchmark for us at the very early stage of our season with the MLS-based players.''