CARSON, Calif. (AP) — When Michael Bradley curled a corner kick over the Panama defense and into the net for a spectacular goal, Clint Dempsey was unsure exactly how it happened.
“You’d have to ask him whether he was aiming for that, because we didn’t know,” Dempsey said, laughing.
With big goals from both veterans and a clean sheet, the United States provided ample reason for more excitement heading into an eventful year.
Bradley scored in the 27th minute, Dempsey added his 40th career goal later in the first half, and the Americans snapped a five-game winless skid with a 2-0 victory over Panama on Sunday.
The Americans wrapped up a monthlong training camp with their best result in 10 games since winning their opener at last year’s World Cup. The U.S. had won just once since beating Ghana in Brazil, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad looked considerably sharper in its home opener for a big year that includes the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.
Bradley started it with a spectacular Olimpico goal, putting his corner kick directly into the far top corner of Jaime Penedo’s net with an exceptional bend. Jozy Altidore could have headed it in if needed, but instead watched it settle for Bradley’s 13th career goal.
“Coming out of a little bit of a difficult period, it was an important game for us,” Bradley said. “Maybe this isn’t the most important game we’ll play this year, but while it wasn’t perfect, we were able to do a lot of good things. It sets the groundwork for the rest of the year.”
As for his goal, Bradley assured everybody that’s exactly what he meant to do.
“Well, we work on a lot of different set pieces,” Bradley said.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson replaced Nick Rimando for the second half, finishing up the Americans’ first shutout since their last victory, over the Czech Republic last September.
The Americans’ most impressive player was hometown star Gyasi Zardes, the LA Galaxy forward. He punctuated his first career U.S. start in the 37th minute by winning the ball in midfield and making a beautiful pass to Dempsey, who sidestepped Penedo and finished.
Klinsmann praised Zardes and other youngsters who stepped up during the camp.
“He is trying to impress, and he’s hungry,” Klinsmann said about Zardes. “He showed certain tools he has. The assist to Clint was just perfect, perfect timing. It shows he has something special.”
Dempsey, the Seattle Sounders star, trails only Landon Donovan as the second-leading goal-scorer in U.S. history.
The Americans improved on last month’s 3-2 loss in Chile while showing none of the second-half struggles that have prompted Klinsmann to question their fitness. The U.S. had yielded nine goals in the second halves of its previous six games, but held Panama to a handful of good chances all day at StubHub Center south of downtown Los Angeles.
Panama had little offensive luck against the U.S. in their first meeting since the Americans scored two stoppage-time goals to knock the Panamanians out of World Cup contention in heartbreaking fashion in October 2013. Panama has beaten the Americans just once in 15 meetings, losing six straight.
After experimenting with a three-man back line in Chile, Klinsmann started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Southern California natives Zardes and Miguel Ibarra got their first career starts, and Brek Shea moved back to defense to compensate for the absence of Steve Birnbaum, who has a minor knee injury.
Defenders Perry Kitchen and Matt Hedges made their U.S. debuts in the second half, coming on for Mix Diskerud and DeAndre Yedlin. Ten players have made their U.S. debuts in the seven games since the World Cup.
A few fans unhappy with Klinsmann made their feelings known behind the south goal with banners reading “JK OUT” and “Red Card the Coach.”
Yet after a tentative start, Klinsmann’s team showed off decent chemistry in the first half, capped by two beautiful goals. The second half was slower, but the American defense was largely impenetrable.
Before the match, Panama honored Penedo for his 100th appearance. The LA Galaxy netminder got a big ovation from his home fans.
The U.S. men return in late March with games in Denmark and Switzerland.
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