The US came out hungry to pay Panama back for the loss they suffered in the group stage. Unlike the first time around, the US came out and played as the much better team. The Americans had control pretty much from the opening whistle, but struggled to create clear cut chances against the Panamanians for a majority of the game. The US was finally able to break through late in the game on a nice buildup to a goal by Clint Dempsey. Join me after the jump for a few other thoughts...
Lineup wise, Jozy Altidore was expected to miss the game, and he did due to his hamstring strain. He will miss the finals showdown vs. Mexico/Honduras as it is expected that he will be out 4-6 weeks with his injury. That is definitely a huge blow to a US team thirsty for impact forwards, especially ones as big and physical as Jozy. Another surprise was again the subtraction of Landon Donovan from the starting lineup. I think many were surprised, myself included, with head coach Bob Bradley's decision to sit Landon for a second straight game. While conspiracy theorists will no doubt spin tales that he has fallen out of favor or is being punished for attending a wedding last weekend, I wouldn't put much stock in those ideas.
I think Bob Bradley simply is giving Landon a bit of extra rest heading into the final. While it could be viewed as risky to start this game with him on the bench, the reality is that Mexico will likely win later tonight, setting up a great showdown between two rivals. And if I have to pick between a rested and fresh Donovan vs. Mexico or a 3/4 Donovan vs. Panama, I will always take the former. I think Landon has looked a bit sluggish of late, so sitting for an extra half will help keep him fresh heading into the final. It worked last game against Jamaica, where he was very dangerous, and I think it will work again in the final. Plus Landon has lots of experience against Mexico in big games, something many other USMNT players can't say. If Mexico does win as expected, playing them in a big game is a much different animal than it may seem.
Getting back to the game, the best chance the US had until the goal was a Juan Agudelo header off the post from a Steve Cherundolo cross. That came in the 25th minute, which shows the US futility at creating quality chances until late in the game with that Agudelo attempt being the only real chance of note through the first 3/4 of the game. It was encouraging to see the US control possession, but I still think they need to find another gear to switch in to when they face what likely will end up being Mexico.
The break through finally came in the 66th minute, when Freddy Adu of all people would enter the match. I certainly didn't expect to see him get any playing time this Gold Cup, unless it was late time in a blowout. To Adu's credit, he helped pull out the victory for the US. In the 76th minute, he had a beautiful ball to Donovan, who hit a cross just right that found Clint Dempsey who finished from up close with ease. The US held on defensively for the win and the right to play in the final.
The US will meet the Mexico/Honduras winner Saturday at 8PM CST at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Despite some shaky moments so far during the tournament, the US was able to put it together when it counted to reach their 4th straight Gold Cup final. Since 1991 and the formation of the Gold Cup, Mexico has won 5 times, the US 4, and Canada 1 time. It will be a great showdown Saturday, and a chance for the US to prove yet again they are the pride of CONCACAF and also earn a berth into the FIFA Confederations Cup. The US of course had the memorable runner up performance in the 2009 Confederations Cup. The US jumped out to a 2-0 lead over world powerhouse Brazil in the championship. They couldn't hold on though and went on to lose 3-2. The US also had a memorable 2-0 win over Spain in the semifinals in that Confederations Cup as well. A Gold Cup victory is definitely a spring board to bigger and better things for the USMNT. Now it remains to be seen who the US will face off against as the Mexico/Honduras game is scoreless as we speak.
In a quick U-17 USMNT World Cup blurb, the US had the chance to advance past the group stage with a win against Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, the team didn't look anything like the team that dismantled the Czech Republic 3-0. Alfred Koroma netted for the second straight game for the US, but the US looked disorganized and out of the game at times. They made some key mistakes that led to goals, and they weren't able to overcome Uzbekistan falling back and playing defense once they got the lead. The US will play New Zealand Saturday at Estadio Hidalgo in Pachuca. The Americans currently sit tied for first with New Zealand. Uzbekistan and the Czech Republic also have 3 points, but worse goal differentials. Saturday will be a big test for the U-17 USMNT. Hopefully the US can pull off the double Saturday with a U-17 win and a Gold Cup trophy for the senior team.