Back line discipline key against Panama 

June, 22, 2011

HOUSTON -- With a spot in the Gold Cup final on the line tonight against Panama, the key to a U.S. victory may well be how its back line stays in line.

In the Americans' first-ever group play loss to Panama 11 days ago, the U.S. defenders lacked organization, didn't mesh well with the midfield and allowed enough chances for a quick and opportunistic Central American squad to pull the upset. Against an even faster Jamaica group in Sunday's quarterfinal, though, the Yanks' back line was nearly perfect in the 2-0 victory.

"Today was an interesting exercise in when to drop your line and when not to," keeper Tim Howard said after the Jamaica match. "You always have to keep the field compact, but it was vitally important that we dropped our line in a lot of situations, because to get caught high against these guys, it's suicide. We got it right on almost every single play."

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.