Before the US National Team faced Panama in a World Cup qualifying match at CenturyLink Field on Tuesday, the US starting lineup was announced to the crowd of 40,847 in attendance.
Each player drew a loud cheer as the in-stadium announcer called out the player’s first name and the crowd responded with the player’s last name. Cheers got louder for some of the stars of the US National Team like Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey. However, the most boisterous of the cheers were reserved for the rightback and right midfielder – Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson of the hometown Sounders FC.
The US played what head coach Jurgen Klinsmann called a “complete performance” in ousting Panama 2-0 to move to the top of the Hexagonal Round with 10 points at 3-1-1, two points ahead of Costa Rica (2-1-2) and Mexico (1-0-5) who played to a scoreless draw on Tuesday.
The match was punctuated by a goal from Johnson, his 11th in 16 World Cup qualifying matches, to make it 2-0 in the second half and putting the game out of reach for the visitors.
“It’s a dream come true,” Johnson said after the match. “To play in the US jersey is an honor, but to play in front of the fans that I play in front of week-in and week-out, you couldn’t have asked for a better feeling after that goal.”
When Johnson scored in the 53rd minute, he was met first by Dempsey and the longtime friends did their signature goal celebration, finishing with a salute. The next player to join in the celebration was Evans.
“I’m just so happy for him. He put in the work tonight offensively and defensively. He helped me out so much,” Evans said. “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. To do it in front of your home crowd, he’ll remember that one forever.”
Johnson acquitted himself well on the right wing, despite playing as a striker with the Sounders. Filling in for the suspended Graham Zusi, Johnson filled the expectations set out by Klinsmann and showed that he, like Evans, can play multiple positions and be beneficial to the team.
Similarly, Evans got his second consecutive start at rightback in World Cup qualifying and helped a defense that shutout a Panama side that had been the highest-scoring team in the Hex with five goals through four matches entering the match on Tuesday. A midfielder his entire MLS career, Evans has taken quickly to the rightback position.
“He is making a very strong case for himself in our group to play that role and I think if you go through that entire team today it was really a complete performance from everyone involved,” Klinsmann said.
The US will face Honduras on June 18 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Honduras moved to fourth in the Hex at 2-2-1 with a 2-0 win over Jamaica on Tuesday. They previously topped the US 2-1 in Honduras on February 6.