USA, Panama must push aside disappointment for Gold Cup third-place match
Consolation is a poor word used to describe the third-place match between the United States and Panama. There is no solace to be found here, not after the way everything unfolded in midweek. It is the prelude to the final on Sunday, not the main event itself. It is an obligation to fulfill rather than an opportunity to cherish.
Both teams enter this fixture keenly aware of its framework in the first Gold Cup third-place match in 12 years. There is still a job to do, even if it is not the desired task any more. And they must approach this affair (live, 4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2, FOX Sports Go) with the necessary attitude and the requisite amount of pride to secure the proper result at PPL Park.
“The reality is that this is the position we’re in right now,” U.S. defender Brad Evans said. “Any time you put this jersey on no matter what the game is — whether it’s a friendly, whether you’re playing 5 vs. 5 in practice — you have to put the effort in.”
The exact nature of the effort remains in some question given the stakes at hand and the underlying complications created by the potential fallout of indiscipline here. Another booking for anyone perched on a yellow card would trigger a suspension for the next official match, according to CONCACAF regulations.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann must weigh whether to field Kyle Beckerman and DeAndre Yedlin and risk a potential second booking during the knockout stage. He said a core of players would remain in the lineup in a bid to claim third place for a third time (1996 over Guatemala, 2003 over Costa Rica), but he noted that he might make changes in other areas and would play the returning DaMarcus Beasley — fit again after suffering a calf injury during his first training session with the team and possibly making his final appearance for the national team — during the second half.
There are considerably more questions about the state of the Panama team in the wake of the chaotic and controversial 2-1 defeat to Mexico after extra time on Wednesday. FEPAFUT president Pedro Chaluja blasted CONCACAF and once again called for the removal of the referee committee during an impassioned press conference on Friday. The players issued their own statement in the middle of coach Hernan Dario Gomez’s press conference later in the day to spell out their commitment to playing in the game and underscore their desire to perform for their country despite their frustration.
Gomez decided to stage a kickball game instead of a traditional training session on Friday morning to lighten the mood within the ranks. It is a clever measure that might lift morale heading into this match, but Gomez is still limited with his squad choices given a raft of injuries, suspensions and yellow cards.
Three first-choice players — Jaime Penedo (handed a two-match ban by CONCACAF for making contact with the referee during the Mexico match), Valentin Pimentel and Luis Tejada — are ruled out through suspension. Two more, Gabriel Gomez and Blas Perez, are unavailable due to injury. Another six players sit on caution warning after the ill-tempered match in midweek with the prospect of a suspension for the first World Cup qualifier hanging over their heads if they procure another yellow card.
Gomez did not rule out the idea of fielding at least a few of those players in the match for want of other options, but he also must ponder how to manage a squad sent through the wringer over the past 48 hours. The response on the field is difficult to assess until the match unfolds, but Klinsmann said he expects Panama to buckle down and present a determined challenge regardless of the lineup changes.
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve done throughout the entire tournament,” Klinsmann said. “The performance they showed and also how they went through all of these difficulties during that against Mexico. It was an outstanding performance by the team, outstanding composure by their coach. It’s really, really huge how they pulled themselves together and held it together.
“That’s what we have to expect again,” Klinsmann continued. “Are they angry? Are they disappointed? There’s no question about it. But they’re willing to give it another go. They’re playing the hosts. They are playing a team they have struggled with in the past, a team that made sure they were not going to Brazil. They will give everything they have with whatever Hernan is fielding out here in his own team. Depending on how he approaches it, it will be everything they have. It will be another difficult grind.”
There is no joy in undertaking that toil on this occasion. There is no greater goal still in mind, no way to finish this tournament with the desired outcome. It is instead a way to produce one last flourish before drawing this tournament to a close. It is not entirely satisfactory, but it is the only thing left for these teams to do before moving on to the next objective.