Photo by Rick Osentoski/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
TAMPA - The U.S. men's national team has a history of dominance over Panama, but the Americans are entering their second Group C match in the CONCACAF Gold Cup knowing a win won't come easy.
It wasn't easy the last time the two teams met, nor the time before that. In fact, the last three times the two teams have played the United States has won but by close scorelines. That's why the Americans are being cautious about their match against the Panamanians (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel/Telefutura) at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, a match that can result in U.S. qualification for the knockout stage of the tournament should the Americans win and should Canada get at least a draw out of its preceding match with Guadeloupe.
Having played eight games in as many years against Panama, the United States is well aware of the type of problems Los Canaleros present, both physically and tactically. But that doesn't mean the U.S. team wants to be cautious when the first whistle blows. Instead, the Americans are planning on doing what they did against Canada: take the game to the opponent.
"You always want to start games well," Landon Donovan said. "We had a stretch where we didn't start games well over the last few years and it was difficult to always come from behind. You spend a lot of energy when you do that.
"Getting the first goal is always important. In these games specifically it's important, because when you get a first goal and you make some of these teams open themselves up, they become very vulnerable and you can get the second and third and fourth."
The Americans may want to push the game, but center backs Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson will need to be wary of the always-dangerous Blas Perez, who scored a goal in Panama's 3-2 win over Guadeloupe in the Group C opener.
Perez will spearhead Panama's attack (he has 21 goals in 37 international appearances), and will be supported by the likes of Luis Tejada and Gabriel Gomez.
"They're an athletic team. They're good on the ball, they have some good movement," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "For us, we need to worry about ourselves. Make sure we stay organized and focused on our gameplan. Passing, moving, pressuring them when we can."
Defensively, the Panamanians are far from stout. After taking a 3-0 lead, Panama allowed 10-man Guadeloupe to score two second-half goals to make things interesting in Detroit, and both goals were partly due to lax defending.
That's why the U.S. team will need strong outings from Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo and Clint Dempsey. If the Americans can apply the same type of pressure it did against Canada, chances are likely to come easier than they did in Detroit.
"They've made it tough for us in the past, and we've had difficulty breaking them down," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We're not under the illusions that it is going to be an easy game, but we also realize what a good result does for us."
A win on Saturday won't only potentially give the United States automatic qualification for the knockout stages of the tournament, but it would also present a chance to rest starters in the third group-stage match against Guadeloupe. That has been a goal of the Americans since before the tournament began.
"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," Donovan said. "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."
The Americans will need to avoid any hiccups if they hope to get that opportunity while also maintaining their record of dominance against a familiar regional foe.
What do you think the U.S. team needs to do to win? Worried about Panama's attack? Hoping the Americans push the game from the beginning?
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