The USMNT have traveled coast (Portland, Ore.) to coast, (almost anyway, Hartford, Ct.) and halfway back again (Chicago, Illinois) in pursuit of the 2013 Gold Cup. Now, only Panama stand in the way of Gold Cup title number five for the Americans, who play the Canaleros Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Whether Jurgen Klinsmann will be patrolling the sideline for the U.S. on Sunday is not yet certain, but we do know that somehow he will be running the show from wherever he is situated for the match by Concacaf. The U.S. coach faces suspension after being thrown out of Wednesday’s 3-1 semifinal win over Honduras.
Klinsmann’s emotional, vocal leadership style may be diluted if he winds up sequestered in a luxury box, but he will no doubt find a way to communicate with his staff and get his message across to his players.
By now much of that will have been driven home, as the Americans prepare for Panama, an opponent they know well. Much has been made of teams using their “B” sides in the Gold Cup, but Panama is one team that has essentially gone all in to win the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup.
When the Canaleros defeated Mexico 2-1 in Wednesday’s semifinal, coach Julio Dely Valdes started seven of the team that were on from the start in Panama’s 2-0 World Cup Qualifier loss to the U.S. June 11, in Seattle. Valdes also started two players who came on as subs in Seattle, including Gabriel Torres, who is tied with Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski with five goals, for the most in this Gold Cup.
Panama has upgraded their attack with Blas Perez added to this squad. The FC Dallas hitman has scored three goals and Perez has scored in four Gold Cups. Panama’s center back and captain Felipe Baloy isn’t at the Gold Cup and the Canaleros are also without Armando Cooper and Luis Tejada, but this remains a strong Panama side.
Panama have reached the Gold Cup Final just once, losing to the U.S. on penalty kicks in 2005. The Americans have dominated their opponents on the way to the 2013 Final, with only Costa Rica posing a serious challenge in a 1-0 loss to the hosts’.
Panama haven’t had it all their own way, although they did outscore the U.S. by two goals against their one common opponent, topping Cuba 6-1, while the Yanks managed a 4-1 margin. And Panama will have gained enormous confidence from a pair of 2-1 victories over Concacaf giants Mexico.
El Tri have been going through a rough patch of late, but victories against Mexico and the U.S. always mean a lot to the the rest of the region’s nations, so Panama will come into Chicago riding high.
The U.S. will have to contain Perez and will also have to be alert not to foul, because three of Gabriel Torres’ goals have come on pk’s in this tournament. Panama showed in the semifinal against Mexico that they can protect a lead, and the Americans will need to be better on set pieces. Panama’s semifinal winner came on a powerful header from defender Roman Torres off of a corner kick from Gabriel Torres.
Klinsmann has a deep and talented squad of his own to choose from, with players battling for starts at several positions. Will Klinsmann keep faith with Clarence Goodson, or will he turn to Omar Gonzalez to partner Matt Besler? Then there is the midfield, where Klinsmann is spoiled for choice. Did Alejandro Bedoya earn another start over Joe Corona with his two assists against Honduras? And what about on the opposite wing, where Jose Torres has proved an able passer, despite being better suited to a central role? Could Klinsmann elect to give natural winger Brek Shea a start, or will he be tempted to play Bedoya or Corona on the left to get both of them into the game?
Which brings us to those central positions. Kyle Beckerman would seem a lock to reprise his role as midfield destroyer, albeit a destroyer who can lay on a telling through ball. But, who will partner the dreadlocked one? Stuart Holden is working his way back from a long injury layoff, and the semifinal against Honduras was Holden’s second full 90 of the Cup.
Klinsmann rested Holden in the quarters versus El Salvador, going with Mikkel Diskerud. Diskerud did well, but Klinsmann may have been prepping Holden to go the rest of the way.
So who will Klinsmann turn to as the U.S. attempts to reclaim the Concacaf Gold Cup for the first time since 2007? How about this;
DaMarcus Beasley (capt.)
With or without Klinsmann on the sideline the U.S. should be too strong for Panama. Set piece problems continue to be the primary area of concern for the home team. As much praise as Klinsmann has earned for his handling of his team over the current 10 game-winning streak, the U.S. cannot continue to surrender set piece goals. Offensively the Americans have worked some set piece magic, now they need to figure out how to defend them.
In open play the U.S. are stringing together passes impressively and have played the game at a speed that has, at times overwhelmed opponents. Landon Donovan has been inspired and Johnson is proving an able running mate.
The midfield is solid, and set piece issue aside, so is the defense. Rimando has relished the number one keeper role, coming up big when needed.
Panama won’t be an easy opponent, but I expect the U.S. to get rolling and to win this game by at least two goals.