Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

ATLANTA — Tim Weah is usually as cool and graceful on the soccer field as off it, but in a moment of madness Thursday, the 24-year-old winger put the U.S. national team in a terrible spot. And because of it, a berth in the Copa América quarterfinals now hangs in the balance.

Weah received a red card in the 18th minute for punching an opponent in the back of the head, leaving his team shorthanded for most of a 2-1 defeat to Panama.

Despite the situation, the Americans actually took the lead after Weah’s dismissal on Folarin Balogun’s sensational goal in the 22nd minute. But Panama used its man advantage to answer quickly and place the United States under duress before going ahead on José Fajardo’s 83rd-minute goal.

“A win tonight would have put us in a great position, and unfortunately the opposite happened,” captain Christian Pulisic said. “Just really disappointed the way we did it. Timmy knows the mistake he made. That’s it. He is going to learn from it. It sucks. It hurts. It’s a lapse of judgment, It’s one simple second.”

Even a draw would have created high drama entering the Group C finale Monday against Uruguay in Kansas City, Mo. But because it lost, the United States (1-1-0) is almost certainly going to need to beat Uruguay (2-0-0), a 15-time tournament champion that beat Bolivia, 5-0, later Thursday in East Rutherford, N.J.

“We have to represent our country with passion and pride,” Pulisic said. “We have to go and play the best game of our lives.”

Failure to advance out of the group stage would be a major embarrassment to the U.S. team, which is using this high-profile competition to prepare for the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“Representing a national team is a tremendous honor,” said Coach Gregg Berhalter, who is in his second term after leading the team at the 2022 World Cup. “There’s a lot of expectations that come along with it. Today was an extremely disappointing result. But the effort was there, and if we put in the same type of effort in terms of the work effort and the togetherness, we’ll have a shot.”

Panama (1-1-0) also finished with 10 men after Adalberto Carrasquilla was red-carded for a brutal foul on Pulisic in the 88th minute. By then, however, Fajardo, a former D.C. United striker, had scored on an eight-yard one-timer off back-up goalkeeper Ethan Horvath’s hands before 59,145 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Although the U.S. team had lost just two of the previous 26 meetings, Panama has become a thorny opponent. The teams split their 2022 World Cup qualifiers, each winning at home, and Panama prevailed in a shootout in the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals.

As they did in a 2-0 victory over Bolivia on Sunday in Arlington, Tex., the Americans executed a set piece to score early — except this one did not count. Long after the celebration had died down, referee Iván Barton used video review to determine Tim Ream had been offside when he set up Weston McKennie’s shot.

Eleven minutes later, Weah was expelled for punching Roderick Miller during an off-the-ball exchange in midfield. Initially a yellow card, Barton turned to video again before upgrading it to red.

Per tournament rules, a player who receives a red card is forbidden from speaking to reporters. Berhalter and the players said Weah apologized to the group after the match.

“Silly decision by Timmy. He stood up and he took accountability for it right away,” Berhalter said. In his club and national team career, Weah had received just one other red card.

“We can’t overreact like that,” said defender Chris Richards, who was shown a second-half yellow card. “It cost the team. I know he is hurting right now.”

Nonetheless, the United States went ahead in the 22nd minute on Balogun’s breathtaking smash. Antonee Robinson intercepted a pass deep in Panama’s end and exchanged passes with Balogun. The striker’s rasping one-timer from the top of the penalty area kissed high off the far post and into the net for his second goal of the tournament and fifth of his U.S. career.

Panama answered four minutes later. Robinson disrupted Cesar Blackman’s initial bid from the top of the box, but Blackman stayed with it and drove a slithering shot beyond Matt Turner’s reach and into the left corner.

Turner suffered a leg injury in the first half after a Panama player smashed into him. He remained in the game until halftime but didn’t return for the second half.

That incident was one of several issues the U.S. team had with Barton.

“Think about that: He knocks Matt out of the game, and nothing,” Berhalter said after Barton did not issue a card.

“You can blame the ref, but we still lost the game,” Richards said. “We have to do better and can’t let these things happen.”

Barton and video review were at the center of attention again in the 63rd minute, when he awarded a penalty kick to Panama. But after review, he determined substitute Cameron Carter-Vickers had not, in fact, fouled Fajardo.

The Americans had a chance to go ahead in the 81st minute on substitute Ricardo Pepi’s header off McKennie’s cross. But Panama made the most of its late opportunity.

“You look at the chances we gave up [in the second half], there was really only that one moment the guy gets an open look,” Berhalter said. “We didn’t deal with the first ball very well. We didn’t deal with the second ball very well, and then we have space between our center backs on the cross.”

The goal — and the result — threw the group into disarray with one set of matches left.

“It’s a must-win game,” Ream said. “It’s a knockout game a game early.”

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#USMNT #falls #Panama #chaotic #Copa #America #group #play #clash

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