By FRANCO PANIZO
TAMPA – The U.S. men's national team entered its game on Saturday night with an unblemished record against Panama and in the all-time history of the group stages in the Gold Cup.
Both unbeaten records were broken at Raymond James Stadium after Panama held off a comeback effort from the United States and defeated the Americans, 2-1, in a Group C match played in front of 27,731 fans.
The Americans fell behind 2-0 in the first half, but a Clarence Goodson headed goal and a number of chances in the final 15 minutes of the match almost saw them pull out a result.
"(A loss) was bound to happen at some point," said Landon Donovan. "CONCACAF teams are getting better and better. It's a pretty good team that we played against. It's disappointing but the reality is that it's over now. We've got to learn something from it."
Panama jumped out on top in the 19th minute when Goodson scored an own goal after Tim Howard made a save on Eduardo Dasent's headed effort.The Panamanians doubled their lead 17 minutes later when Gabriel Gomez scored off a penalty kick following a Tim Ream foul.
"I went to clear it and as I was swinging I was already committed and (Blas Perez) gave me a little nudge," said Ream. "It was on my right side and as I was swinging through I caught him."
The United States rallied in the second half, cutting the lead to one on Goodson's goal, but several quality chances went begging, including a point-blank open look from Chris Wondolowski that was easier to make than miss.
Panama came out with plenty of energy and out-hustled a flat-looking USA squad. The forward tandem of Blas Perez and Luis Tejada gave Goodson and Ream headaches all match long, with Perez forcing Ream into a penalty foul and Tejada forcing Goodson into an own goal.
""It wasn't that we were so flat, we still moved the ball and had some chances," said Donovan of how the United States started the match. "We were just a little off for some reason and I wish I had an answer (as to why we start slow). If I knew the answer we wouldn't be in that (situation)."
The U.S. midfield that dominated Canada struggled badly to cope with Panama's pace and movement. Second-half substitutes Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan gave the team energy, but the United States couldn't finish off the handful of quality chances it created late in the match.
"We had the ball in some pretty good spots but still didn't finish plays off," said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley.
The win gave Panama first place in Group C with six points while the United States falls to second with three points and the tiebreaker of head-to-head against third-place Canada.
"Panamanians (as a people) don't need a reason to celebrate, but this will definitely make them celebrate," said Valdes.
The Americans must now beat Guadeloupe in the final group game to earn a top two finish in Group C. The United States could still finish first in Group C if Canada beats Panama in their final group match and the USA has a better goal difference than both Canada and Panama.
What do you think of the Americans' 2-1 loss to Panama? Who impressed/disappointed you? Still can't believe the U.S. team lost its first ever Gold Cup group stage match?
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