(July 25, 2015)- A bronze medal game is a tough game to get up for; often coming on the heels of emotional losses in a semifinal match. There has been no better example recently than the USA vs. Panama bronze medal match of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, held today at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Both teams came into the match under equally deflating circumstances. The U.S. Men’s National Team, the main host of the tournament (one match was played in Toronto, Canada), entered as a contender but was unable to get past Jamaica, losing 2 – 1 in its semifinal on Wednesday, July 22nd. Panama lost in even more dramatic fashion to Mexico on an extremely controversial, emotional, and frustrating night as two penalties were awarded against them, one in extra time.
The atmosphere going into the bronze medal match (to determine third and fourth place) was predictably downcast as both teams fought off smoldering emotions. It was readily apparent that the struggle to find morale and energy would be a key factor in deciding the outcome.
Unfortunately for the U.S., disappointment would continue even further as a well battled 1 – 1 draw through 120 minutes ended with a 3 – 2 loss on penalties. The U. S. had held even with Panama at two goals each until Harold Cummings scored on U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan on the last of Panama’s five shots in the opening round. Panama came away with the edge once their goalkeeper, Luis Mejia, was able to stop Demarcus Beasley on the next shot. Beasley had been substituted in for Omar Gonzalez at the beginning of extra time, with some speculation that it may be his last opportunity with the national team. If so, it will no doubt add a further measure of disappointment as an ending to his international career.
The contest started as a fairly lackluster affair through the early portion of the first half. Possession was fairly even through the first 20 minutes, with Panama starting as the team most willing to attack and get shots on target. The U.S. countered several times with pace as they worked to find rhythm. Nearly all forwards, Chris Wondolowski, Tim Chandler, and Graham Zusi in particular, were able to connect on well timed runs forward, but were not able to get a final ball on goal. If anything, it was the U.S. inability to hold the ball up in Panama’s final third that led to their ultimate lack of ability to threaten the Panamanian goal.
Panama did an efficient job of controlling the midfield and forcing the U.S. into longer, low quality passes. U.S. attackers were given very little time on the ball and as possession increasingly went in Panama’s favor, chances at the American goal came in numbers. Panama began to attack more and more as the first half wore on. Brad Guzan, through marvelous goalkeeping, held Panama off the score sheet.
In the 36th minute, it was U.S. defender Tim Ream who tracked back with great pace and cleared to save a nearly certain goal Armando Cooper. Panama came close on the ensuing corner but Guzan was equal to the task. Panama continued to threaten right to the end of the first half, and even as late as extra time, as a redirect just trickled wide of the U.S. goal.
The second half began as the first had ended with both teams trading chances. Wondolowski came close to opening for the U.S. as he headed a long, high, ball from the right flank just to the left of the Panamanian goal. In the 55th minute though, Panama was able to get through as Roberto Nurse scored in close as he dribbled inside of Ream and shot past Guzan. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann then brought on Clint Dempsey for Wondolowski and DeAndre Yedlin for Zusi in the 59th minute. The impact was instant as the U.S. stepped up the attack. With numbers forward however, they were caught on occasion, as Panama nearly scored again.
Panamanian forward, Roman Torres shot a dangerous laser toward Guzan off a corner in the 64th minute, but it was Dempsey who made his mark two minutes later with a nice tap-in to even the score at one apiece. Interestingly, the U.S. had been getting better results from long balls leading up to the goal and it was Yedlin who did well to receive and corral a forward lob into the box. Turning on the ball, he deftly found Dempsey with a neat back pass.
More of that type of play would likely have helped the U.S. maintain momentum, but it was not to be as Panama continued to hold possession at 53% and out shoot the U.S. by a margin of 12 – 2 by the 80th minute.
Through the last ten minutes, both teams went end to end as the game opened up and the tempo increased. With successive counters and attempts on target, Panama began to increase their chances even further with more corners and free kicks. The U.S. did not get a corner until the 79th minute.
Guzan made a wicked save on Rolando Blackburn off a point blank shot that connected from a corner late in the game. Guzan had actually made 8 saves up to 82nd minute, many of them off clearly dangerous chances in close and direct. U.S. defenders were unable to prevent Panamanian forwards from getting good crosses into the box and, at times, it put Guzan under pressure. Panama was able to sustain presence in the U.S. third by getting bodies forward and quickly dispossessing U.S. players as they recovered second balls and attempted to clear.
Extra time solved nothing but saw much of the same thing as more chances were traded and both teams sought to put the game away. Panama did a good job of supporting the ball, holding possession, and expanding their attack by getting into wide areas. The U S dropped back more and looked for the counter. The penalty round went quickly but ended in disappointment for the U.S. and elation for Panama. The entire Panamanian team gathered for a prayer in celebration as U.S. players paid tribute to their fans.
This marks the first time the U.S. has lost consecutive games in a Gold Cup and only the second time in 13 Gold Cup tournaments that they have failed to medal in. In October, they will face the winner of tomorrow’s Mexico – Jamaica Gold Cup final for the right to represent CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup.