By FRANCO PANIZO
TAMPA, Fla. – The U.S. men's national team began preparations for its second Goup C match on a sunny and hot morning in Central Florida on Thursday, gearing up to play a Panama team it knows quite well.
The United States will battle Panama for the ninth team in the two teams' history, and eighth time in the last eight years. The Americans have never lost to Los Canaleros, compiling a 6-0-2 record in which the U.S. team has scored 18 goals while only allowing four.
That doesn't mean the United States is overlooking its familiar foe, though.
"They always give us a tough match-up," said Landon Donovan, who scored a penalty kick against the Panamanians in a 2-1 win in the quarterfinals of the 2007 Gold Cup. "Athletically, they're challenging and they do a pretty good job tactically of making the game hard against us.
"I think we've beaten them a few times in a row but its always close games. They're a good team, they have a lot of experience. People forget how much experience (their) group of players have now. It's been basically the same team for five, six, seven, eight years. It's going to be a difficult game and we expect a tough test."
Just as they did against Canada on Tuesday, the Americans are hoping to set the tone against Panama from the opening whistle. That approach is what the U.S. team believes will give it the upperhand at Raymond James Stadium.
"I think we pushed the tempo (versus Canada) and for us that seems the best way of going about it," said Tim Howard. "I'm hopeful that's what we do on Saturday."
Should the Americans be successful in their attempt to start strong, and should they win the game, they'll likely have the luxury of resting the regulars in the final group match against Guadeloupe. That would also possibly open the door for some of the backups, like Eric Lichaj and Freddy Adu, to get playing time.
"Our goal from the beginning was to make sure we win these (first two) games and give ourselves a chance to finish first in the group and potentially rest depending on how the other results go," said Donovan. "But regardless you want to ensure you've qualified by the second game if at all possible and then it would be nice if there's a chance to rest guys and get other guys some minutes that we're going to use later in the tournament."
Here are some other news and notes from Thursday's practice:
- Landon Donovan trained lightly during the session, but not because he is still feeling the effects of the illness that sidelined him for the Spain friendly. A U.S. spokesman said Donovan always trains lightly two days after a game. Donovan joked at first, "I got benched," but then confirmed, "Generally two days after a game I don't do a whole lot. My body doesn't respond well to doing a lot two days after the game."
- The Americans worked on finishing drills during the final phase of practice and Jermaine Jones struggled so much that all he could do was laugh after each miss. He missed a couple wide and then smacked two off the crossbar from close range. Jones then playfully celebrated when he got one passed Marcus Hahnemann and into the back of the net.
- Former USF and current FC Tampa Bay goalkeeper Jeff Attinella trained with the U.S. team. Attinella, who was drafted by Real Salt Lake in this year's MLS Supplemental Draft but later released, made a pair of fine saves during finishing drills.
- Ticket sales for Saturday's Canada-Guadeloupe and USA-Panama doubleheader is approaching 20,000. A big walk-up is expected based on Tampa's history with sporting events, a CONCACAF spokesman said.
- The U.S. team is currently injury free, and all 22 players in camp are available for selection for Saturday's 18-man gameday roster.
What do you think of the looming Panama match? Expecting the Americans to start the match off by imposing their will? Who do you hope starts?
Share your thoughts below.