A crowd of 40,847 at CenturyLink Field cheered both its national team and its local players Tuesday, as Seattle Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson scored in the United States’ 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Panama.
Johnson’s second-half goal combined with Jozy Altidore’s first-half score to move the USA to 3-1-1 and alone at the top in the 10-game, six-team competition in which the top three finishers clinch a spot in the 2014 World Cup.
“Obviously, we were very pleased with that performance,” national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I thought throughout the entire game we were in control of it. Every area on the field, the guys did their job.”
The crowd was the seventh-largest drawn for a qualifying match on U.S. soil. It also was the second-largest for the national team in Seattle, behind the 43,651 that watched the USA tie Russia in the Kingdome in 1994.
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“Unbelievable,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “The best crowd I’ve played in in the United States without a doubt. So from all the players, a big thank you to everybody who was here, to everybody in this city who makes this a special night for us, because people don’t know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this.”
The United States moved ahead in the 36th minute when midfielder Fabian Johnson feathered a pass to the far post where Altidore ran on and knocked it home.
Johnson’s insurance goal came in the 53rd minute when he settled a long, high pass from Geoff Cameron and beat Panama (1-1-3) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo from about 15 yards.
“That’s what we said at halftime: ‘We want to add another one in the second half,’”
Klinsmann said. “That second goal came, funny enough, from Eddie Johnson, who plays here. We are very pleased, but we still have another game to go. We want to get those three points as well against a very strong Honduras side next week in Salt Lake City.”
Johnson was subbed out in the 87th minute, and he received a loud cheer from the crowd.
Sounders midfielder/defender Brad Evans played 90 minutes at right back.
“Evans is growing into his role, is making a very strong case for himself right now in our group to play that role,” Klinsmann said. “I think that goes for the entire team today. It really was a complete performance from everyone.”
Evans had scored in the United States’ 2-1 win over Jamaica last week.
With Johnson’s goal Tuesday, four of the USA’s past 11 goals have come from Seattle players.
“I thought that Eddie and myself did well,” Evans said. “And for him to turn it on in the second half and still have that energy and that pace and that endurance to get in behind and score that goal was something special. And to do it in front of your home crowd, he’ll remember that one forever.”
The upbeat Klinsmann even had praise for the temporary grass pitch that was installed over the stadium’s permanent FieldTurf. Some players had expressed concerns before the game, and the national media picked up on the topic. That only multiplied in the 23rd minute when Panama’s Carlos Rodriguez broke into space near the U.S. penalty area and took an untouched pratfall onto the grass.
“I think every time probably when grass is put on top of turf it causes a little bit of discussions,” Klinsmann said. “The field was totally fine. The players were fine with it. They did a tremendous job with the field.”
The national team will be off Wednesday before flying to Utah on Thursday and then continuing World Cup qualifying Tuesday on the natural-grass field at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/soccer