Five months before the start of World Cup qualifying, the United States got an exhibition win in Central America under some of the conditions the players will face on the road to the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Graham Zusi scored his first international goal in the eighth minute, and the Americans beat Panama 1-0 on Wednesday night at Panama City for their third straight win.
"We wanted to introduce the players to those difficult games in different environments, especially away from home outside of their comfort zone," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We wanted them to come here and experience this atmosphere and a different way of doing things. I think they did very well with all that."
Using mostly backups while the regulars remained with their European clubs and playing nearly the entire second half a man short, the Americans evened their record at 4-4-1 under Klinsmann, who replaced Bob Bradley as coach last summer.
"It was fun. The crowd was great. It was a fun environment to play in," Zusi said.
Panama, which upset the U.S. in the first round of last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup, had a man advantage after Geoff Cameron received a red card in the 52nd minute for shoving Blas Perez from behind on a breakaway just outside the penalty area.
Perez nearly tied it in the 78th but sent a short downward header wide.
"In the first half, I think we were the better team," said midfielder Jermaine Jones, who served as the U.S. captain for the second straight match. "The second half was difficult because we were a man down and Panama pushed hard."
Other than the goal, the Americans rarely threatened -- the U.S. didn't have its first corner kick until the fifth minute of stoppage time in the second half, just before the final whistle.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, making his first national team appearance in a year, had several difficult saves to prevent the hosts from scoring. The U.S. was coming off a 1-0 win over Venezuela on Saturday at Glendale, Ariz., its first victory over a South American opponent in nearly five years.
"To get two victories and come down to Central America and beat Panama is huge," Rimando said. "It's a testament to all the hard work everyone has put in."
During a three-week training camp, Klinsmann got to test the depth of his player pool as the Americans prepare for their opening qualifier, on June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda.
"It was good to help us prepare for what we will see in World Cup qualifying," midfielder Brek Shea said. "It's a battle. It's not always pretty, but you have to get the results."
Most of the top American players will return for the next game, an exhibition against Italy at Genoa on Feb. 29.
Zusi, a 25-year-old midfielder with Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City, made his national debut last weekend. His goal came after left back Zach Loyd's cross fell at Teal Bunbury at the top of the 6-yard box and appeared to bounce off him to Zusi, who slammed it in with a right-footed shot from 7 yards.
"Zach sent a ball in that took a fortuitous bounce in my direction, and I was just there to clean it up," Zusi said. "It's a cool experience to get that first goal, but the win is still the most important thing."
Rimando dove midway through the first half to block Luis Renteria's point-blank shot, which bounded in front of the net. Rimando then got up and managed to poke the ball away before the rebound could be knocked in.
Jones nearly made it 2-0 in the 30th, but goalkeeper Luis Mejia parried his 30-yard shot, then dived back to save Chris Wondolowski's header at the goal line. Five minutes later, Rimando athletically got his left leg out to block Perez's close-range shot.
"Our team had a very hard three weeks, and they had tired legs today and you could see that," Klinsmann said. "A lot of the young players learned their lesson today."
Mexico 3, Venezuela 1
Rafael Marquez Lugo and Oribe Peralta scored late
in the second half, and Mexico salvaged its 2012 debut with a 3-1
victory against Venezuela in an exhibition Wednesday night at
Marquez Lugo tapped in the game-winning goal against an open
goal in the 88th minute, and Peralta stumbled into a turnover and
converted from 19 yards out about a minute later.
Venezuela jumped to lead in the 52nd minute, when forward Edgar
Greco headed in a corner by captain Micky Mea Vitali, squeezing the
low shot past Mexico keeper Jesus Corona.
It took Mexico, playing without any of its Europe-based players,
more than 15 minutes and a couple of offensive-minded substitutions
to react. Defender Carlos Salcido collected a pass from the left
flank and, given space, sent a blast past Venezuela goalkeeper
Leonardo Morales to tie it in the 68th minute.