(Sunday, July 19, 2009) -- Once again, an inexperienced version of the United States men managed to persevere and came away with a 2-1 overtime victory over a determined and more experienced Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals before 31,087 at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.
In an very even match, the U.S. had its chances in the first half, including striker Brian Ching hitting the right post with a header, but overall, Panama had the better of play. It controlled the center of the midfield, forcing the Americans to either go down the flanks or over the top. Panama deserved the 1-0 lead it took into intermission.
Things took a turn for the worse for the U.S. in the 41st minute when central defender Jimmy Conrad lowered his head in an attempt to head a ball and he came turned his head and face into the head of Panama midfielder Gabriel Gomez. Conrad was stunned and bloodied and needed to be replaced by Clarence Goodson.
On the subsequent Panama corner kick, Goodson lost his man, striker Blas Perez, who headed the ball down where it bounced off U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden right back to Perez who blasted an unstoppable point-blank shot into the top right corner of the net.
Despite its lead, Panama did not try to bunker on defense to start the second half. After a bit of back-and-forth action, the U.S. attached in numbers and in the 49th minute, U.S. forward Davy Arnaud rolled a ball from deep in the Panama penalty area back to Kyle Beckerman who drove a hard shot into the upper right corner from just inside the box to tied the match at 1-1.
The match remained knotted into 30 minutes of mandatory overtime. Panama seemed to tire and the Americans stepped up their attack and created several good chances. In the 103rd minute, as the first of two 15-minute extra periods neared its end, U.S. reserve striker Kenny Cooper chased a ball into the left side of the Panama box. Defender Roman Torres came flying in to try to clear the ball, but missed, kicking Cooper in the midsection and chest. Mexican referee Benito Archundia, probably CONCACAF's best, called for a penalty kick, while handing Torres a yellow card. Cooper converted the penalty to give the U.S. its margin of victory.
"It was a challenge to the team to be in that spot at halftime and I still felt good that the response was strong," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "When we didn't finish the game in regulation, you still got a sense the mentality was 'We're going to take care of this thing.' The players deserve a lot of credit for that."
After the generally even first half, it was a different story in the second half with the U.S. scoring early and then beginning to win the battle in the central midfield. After Cooper entered in the 77th minute, the Americans had a more physical presence on top and that gave Panama big problems. By the time overtime started, Panama was holding on and thinking about just getting to a penalty-kicks tiebreaker.
On the night, both defenses played well and both goalkeepers, especially Panama's veteran Jaime Penedo, were strong.
Bradley had a much diminished roster to choose from. With the exception of Perkins and Goodson, all the European-based players on the Gold Cup roster -- defenders Steve Cherundolo and Michael Parkhurst, midfielder Benny Feilhaber, midfielder-forward Freddy Adu and forward Charlie Davies - had returned to their club teams, which have started preseason training.
Meanwhile, Panama coach Alexandre Guimaraes is in the process of rebuilding his squad after missing out on advancing to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The team he put on the field in Philadelphia included six starters from last year's qualifying team and five new players trying to break into the starting lineup.
So now its on to Chicago and a rematch with Honduras in Thursday's semifinals. The U.S. beat Honduras 2-0 in group play, but since then Honduras has played well and the U.S. will not be able to field as strong a team with the European-based players having departed.