USA expects tough match from Panama

Will the US be celebrating on Sunday?

Will the US be celebrating on Sunday?

By Ivan Yeo

Over the last five years, the US and Panamanian national teams have gotten to know each other very well.

Whether it was Panama beating the United States in the group stage of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, or the USA returning the favor two weeks later in the Semifinals of that tournament, or the last World Cup cycle when the US rallied from two goals down to deny Panama a chance at qualifying for the World Cup, the intensity of the matches between the United States and Panama have been raised to very high levels.

You expect Sunday’s match between the two nations at the StubHub Center to be no different, not with this years’ CONCACAF Gold Cup set to start in July.

“We’re looking foward to this game,” head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “The guys worked very hard, they put everything into this camp and the trip down to Chile. We want to start off well on our home soil.”

The US will certainly be looking for a positive outcome in this match, as they are currently on a five-match winless streak. The US in its last match came up just short, losing to Chile 3-2 in Rancagua’s Estadio El Teniente last Wednesday. In that game, the US took a 2-1 lead into halftime, but Chile rallied with two second half goals to get the win. The US will certainly be looking to shake off that result and start off the year right.

“It’s good to get home and play in front of the home crowd,” Jozy Altidore said. “Things haven’t gone so well the past few matches, so its good to come back here to a familiar place and get a result.”

Look for Klinsmann to continue to experiment in the last match of the US January Camp. In the Chile match, Klinsmann started off with a 3-5-2 formation, but switched back to the more traditional 4-4-2 in the second half. Also, look for players such as Gyasi Zardes and Lee Nguyen to feature more prominently in the match, but defender Steve Birnbaum will not be available in the match as a precaution due to what was described as a “minor knee issue.”

“I think Steve did very well in Chile, but from the start of camp, he’s been sharp from the first day on,” Klinsmann said of the DC United center back. “It’s a bummer that this keeps him out of this one game, but most the important things is that he’s going to be healthy in the next couple of days and continue to train with DC United.”

As for Panama, they are playing their first match of 2015 after finishing in third place at the Copa Centoramericana back in September of 2014. Panama features three MLS players; striker Blas Perez of FC Dallas, striker Gabriel Torres of the Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. The United States team were quick to sing the praises of Panama’s quick rise in the CONCACAF region.

“It’s become a very tough game,” Altidore said of facing Panama. “They’re very athletic, and if we’re not careful, we won’t get a result in this game, so we need to stay on our toes and understand that it’s a team that’s going to come with a lot of emotion and play to win the game.”

Panama, once an afterthought in CONCACAF, has certainly come alive in the last five years. Its landmark win came in the 2011 Gold Cup group stage, where Panama knocked off the US 2-1 at Raymond James Stadium on June 11. The two teams met again in the tournament 11 days later in Houston, where the United States received another stern test from Los Caleros, but a late goal from Clint Dempsey enabled the Americans to escape with the win, sending them onto the final.

The two teams met in the final of the 2013 Gold Cup, won by the US 1-0 on Brek Shea’s goal, but it was the final match of the Hexagonal round between the US and Panama was the drama was at its highest. Panama led by two goals going into stoppage time and were all but set to go through onto a two-match playoff against New Zealand that would determine the last spot in the World Cup, but the US tallied twice in the final 90 seconds to knock out Panama and thus send Mexico onto the playoff against New Zealand.

“Over the last six to eight years, Panama’s been getting stronger and stronger,” Klinsmann said. “They are very hungry, they are eager to make it and breakthrough, they have a very competitive group there and probably still have a little bit in their stomach to forget a day that was really a disaster for them.”

With all that in mind, should make for quite an afternoon at the StubHub Center.


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