Panama bounce back from heartache to defeat USA in penalties
There is a place on the spectrum of punishments reserved for the prospect of playing extra-time and heading to penalties in a third-place game. It is an undesirable fate in the wake of a semifinal defeat and 90 further minutes to reinforce that fury, but the United States men's national team succumbed to it nevertheless after offering a listless display and failing to sort out its business against Panama.
Luis Mejia compounded the misery by making two stops during the penalty shootout to give Panama a 3-2 triumph on spot kicks after the CONCACAF Gold Cup third-place match finished 1-1 after extra-time.
''Give Panama credit, they played better than we did today from top to bottom,'' USA's DaMarcus Beasley said after the defeat. ''They definitely deserved to win. They played good football today. We just didn't bring it. This is going to hurt for a while for me.''
The result reflected the balance of play on the day when the U.S. offered precious little to the affair and eventually suffered the consequences despite Brad Guzan’s best efforts to keep them in the match. Roberto Nurse finally opened the scoring 10 minutes into the second half with a cool cut and finish, but second-half substitute Clint Dempsey responded with a simple finish after good work from DeAndre Yedlin.
The two teams went back and forth, but Panama ultimately claimed third place and dealt the Americans their second straight loss. It proved a protracted, frustrating and ultimately meaningless indignity for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players to complete this miserable week.
Klinsmann made five changes to his starting XI as he rotated in the wake of the defeat to Jamaica in midweek. Fabian Johnson featured on the left side of midfield, while Tim Ream received the chance to impress at left back. Aron Jóhannsson and Chris Wondolowski partnered up front in a traditional 4-4-2 setup.
Both teams eased into this frivolous affair. There were players pulling out of challenges right and left, while the tempo of the game underscored the lack of impetus behind it. The focus inevitably fell on knocking the ball around and looking for the odd chance instead of pursuing the match ardently in order to procure it.
Panama, forced to include several regulars in a lineup tattered by injuries and suspensions, started to ask some questions as the match hit the half-hour mark. Armando Cooper benefited from his restored perch on the right to prompt a save from Guzan, while Miguel Camargo rolled into Guzan’s arms from distance as the Panamanians warmed to the task.
Cooper nearly opened the scoring with a dazzling run out of midfield. The enterprising St. Pauli midfielder eluded several Americans on his dash toward the penalty area and retained his balance enough to poke toward the far post at the end. Ream made an intelligent recovery run to sweep away before the ball crossed the line.
The intervention spared the Americans at that point, but it did not do much to spark them to life. Blackburn capped the first half by turning just wide of the far post to wrap a languid opening half.
Everything continued along the same path at the start of the second half; Ream’s poor backwards header conceded a needless corner, while Cooper’s delivery located Blackburn near the penalty spot. Blackburn hit his header on goal, but Johnson recovered well to hack clear off the line.
Panama eventually secured a deserved breakthrough a moment later as former Chivas USA forward Nurse exploited the American defense. Nurse collected a ball over the top and cut across John Brooks to create an angle to shoot. He made no mistake from the promising position to send Panama in front.
Klinsmann responded to the opening goal by throwing Dempsey and Yedin into the fray to jolt his side to life. Nurse headed over the bar from a good position before the response finally took effect, but the two former Sounders combined after 67 minutes to restore parity.
Yedlin created the opportunity with a deft run through the middle. The Tottenham Hotspur fullback corralled down a long ball around the penalty spot in front of the onrushing Panama goalkeeper Mejia. Instead of trying to shoot, Yedlin picked up his head and pushed a pass into Dempsey’s path. Dempsey slotted into the vacated net to register his Gold Cup-leading seventh goal of the competition.
Dempsey’s equalizer stretched the game out further with both teams holding little appetite for extra-time. Dempsey nearly doubled his haul when he beat Mejia to a cross shortly after his equalizer, but he nodded wide. Joe Corona tracked back well to help Johnson snuff out a potential two-versus-one situation on the break, while Guzan produced a stunning one-handed save to deny Blackburn’s header from close range.
Blackburn somehow managed to fire wide from eight yards in the late stages as both teams desperately sought the winner. The miss instead condemned this match to continue for another 30 minutes instead.
Beasley climbed off the bench to presumably make his final appearance in a U.S. shirt as extra-time opened. He lapped up warm applause from the supporters on the River End after play restarted.
Fatigue and frustration emerged as the match continued. Both teams came together on the far sideline after a minor conflict attracted several interested parties. The rash of yellow cards calmed things down, but it brought the teams no closer to the decisive goal. Guzan produced yet another fine save on Nurse as Panama continued to look the more likely team to grab the second. There were a couple of late American corner kicks, but the match spiraled into penalty kicks instead.
The exertions of the past month told with a couple of glaring misses, but Mejia ultimately provided the difference. He produced a stunning save on Bradley in the third round and then shepherded Beasley’s effort wide to send Los Canaleros home in third place.
''This team will grow,'' USA manager Klinsmann insisted. ''This team will get better. The youngsters will learn from their mistakes on the field.''
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.