On a momentous Saturday evening in Tampa, Florida the Panamanian national soccer team took a big step towards legitimacy with a 2-1 upset over the USMNT. Earlier in the day, the Canadian national side earned their first 2011 Gold Cup win by a 1-0 score over Guadeloupe. (The Bundesliga Fanatic roadtrip featuring Kurt and Gerry will meet up with Bundesliga SuperFan Tim Russell at Kansas City’s brand new LIVESTRONG Sporting Park Tuesday to see all four teams in action, as Panama now leads Group C with six points, followed by the U.S. and Canada with three each).
USA 1-2 Panama
The nation of Panama may be considered a minnow on football’s international stage, but they handed the U.S. their first CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage loss ever with their 2-1 win Saturday night. Panama got off to a quick start as Luis Tejada struck for the game’s first goal in the 18th minute. Tejada, who has over 25 international goals, currently plays his club football in Peru for the Juan Aurich side, and has had success playing in Colombia and Panama. Along with attack partner Blas Perez, a proven scorer in Mexico’s Primera Division, Panama boasts legitimate offensive weapons.
The listless U.S. side surrendered a second goal in the 35th minute. Defender Tim Ream was called for a foul on Perez, and 27 year-old midfielder Gabriel Gomez converted from the spot to give Panama a surprising 2-0 lead that they carried into intermission.
USMNT Coach Bob Bradley started Bundesliga veterans Steve Cherundolo at right back, with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in the defensive midfield, although Jones was subbed out near the hour mark. The U.S. side began awakening from their slumber about five minutes later, showing more coherent attacking flair.
In the 67th minute, the Americans finally netted a goal in front of the crowd of over 47,000. Michael Bradley headed a ball across the box and defender Clarence Goodson responded with a quality diving header to cut the deficit to 2-1. The last 20 minutes of play saw waves of continual attack posed by the Americans, but the athletic Panama defenders, led by captain Felipe Baloy, were able to stave off the Americans. The U.S. was also its own worse enemy. Substitute Chris Wondolowski missed a sitter with ten minutes remaining, and after some fine passing work, Bradley shot wide on a great opportunity with a minute left that would have provided the Americans with a point.
Although the American team was in for a post-game bashing by commentators, much credit must be given to the previously unheralded Panama squad under Coach Julio Dely Valdes. The 44 year-old former striker who played for such European clubs as PSG, Caliguiri and Malaga, has his team playing attractive football. Although ranked 67th in the world by FIFA, Panama have made the quarterfinals of the last two Gold Cup competitions and look to be a team on the rise. Congratulations to Los Canaleros. They meet Canada Tuesday night in Kansas City, Mo. in their final group stage match.
Canada 1-0 Guadeloupe
Coach Steven Hart’s Canadian side got all the goals they needed in the 50th minute when MLS veteran Dwayne De Rosario converted a penalty kick to secure three points with a 1-0 victory over Guadeloupe. Canada still has the opportunity to advance, but will have to derail the red-hot Panamanian side Tuesday night.
Hart made significant changes from the lineup he introduced Tuesday night in the Canadians 2-0 loss to the U.S. He kept German-based defenders Kevin McKenna and Nik Ledgerwood on his backline, but FC Augsburg’s Marcel de Jong was not named to Saturday’s 18 while Montreal Impact Ali Gerba started on the front line and Toronto FC’s Julio de Guzman started in midfield. Former 1. FC Kaiserslautern midfielder Josh Simpson again got a starting nod in midfield, and Hertha Berlin’s Rob Friend, who along with Gerba was effective as a late substitute against the U.S., came into the match just past the hour mark for Gerba. Young goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who plays for Serbian side FK Rad, earned the clean sheet for the Canadians.
The Canadians outshot Guadeloupe 18-9 and notched six corner kicks to none for the team from the small nation of 400,000. As an overseas department of the French Republic, Guadeloupe does not compete as an entity in the FIFA World Cup, as their players are French citizens, but does compete in CONCACAF and the Caribbean Football Union. Many of the players on the team play in France’s Ligue 2.
Canada had the man advantage for almost the entire match, as veteran midfielder Jean Luc Lambourde was red-carded in the 2nd minute of the match. It was Guadeloupe’s second one goal loss of this edition of the Gold Cup.
Gold Cup Round Up
On Thursday evening, Costa Rica got a very late (fifth minute of stoppage time) equalizer to draw with upset-minded El Salvador 1-1. In other Group A action, the Mexican team demolished Cuba 5-0, giving El Tri a total of ten goals scored and none allowed in their two Group A matches. The Mexicans, despite their Chicken-Gate scandal (five players suspended for failing drug testing which is claimed involved the consumption of tainted chicken), have demonstrated that they are, as expected, a strong bet to retain their 2009 Gold Cup title, although their next match against Costa Rica will be a better test of their quality.
On Friday evening, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz are in the driver’s seat to advance from Group B following their 2-0 win over Guatemala. Honduras, which could not score against Guatemala last Tuesday despite a man advantage (and late on a two-man advantage), poured their frustration out on tiny Grenada in a 7-1 thrashing. Monday’s match between Honduras and Jamaica should be quality, while Grenada and Guatemala will matchup. With the top two teams in each group, plus the best two third-place teams advancing to the quarterfinals, there is still much to play for.