In the unforgiving rules of World Cup Qualifying in CONCACAF, a player who is issued two yellow cards through the course of 15 games spanning two years would receive a one-game suspension. Heading into the final two matches of the Hex that will determine whether the USA qualifies for its eighth consecutive World Cup or not, a total of nine MNT players were carrying a caution.
Against a Panamanian team with a well-established reputation of being thuggish bordering on dirty, one mistake, one silly foul, or one act of retaliation could have meant suspension for the United States' most important World Cup Qualifier in 16 years.
Despite the constant fouling of Christian Pulisic, the violent off the ball strike to the head of Matt Besler by Felipe Baloy which required stitches, the absolute decking of Jozy Altidore by Román Torres and many other card-worthy incidents, the U.S. maintained discipline, composure and resolve.
As a result, the scoresheet contained a zero that was almost as important as the shutout – not a single yellow card issued to the United States, ensuring that the likes of team captain Michael Bradley, U.S. all-time leading scorer Clint Dempsey, World Cup veterans Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler and DeAndre Yedlin, and up-and-comers Kelly Acosta and Paul Arriola will all be available for selection in Tuesday night’s decisive showdown with Trinidad & Tobago.
Sometimes the best way to protect a teammate is to make sure you are on the field with him to help get a result in the games that really matter. Among the other big achievements against Panama, the U.S. MNT accomplished this critical task as well.