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USA vs. Panama: A Look Ahead

Eddie Johnson

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Given the dominant way the U.S. Men’s National Team has plowed through the competition at this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, it would be easy to think the Americans should just steamroll Panama in Sunday’s Final.

That is far from a foregone conclusion. Not with a Panama team playing with confidence after beating Mexico twice, and not with the ‘Canaleros’ boasting the talent and experience to give the Americans their toughest test in quite some time.

When looking closely at Panama, what we see is a team with some similarities to the U.S. A pair of dangerous forwards, an organized defense and a midfield that does well to transition the team from defense to offense.

So where does the edge stand for the Americans? Their midfield is more polished and versatile, and capable of controlling a match in a way Panama cannot. Where the ‘Canaleros’ are constantly looking for the breakout counter, and playing the long ball to their dangerous forwards, the U.S. will consistently look to control play, keep the ball and make Panama chase the game while they look to unlock their tough defense.

Here is a closer look at the Gold Cup Final:



Here is a closer look at the match-ups:

Panama likes to push their fullbacks forward, and both Leonel Parris and Carlos Hernandez are capable players getting upfield. Both Jose Torres and Joe Corona like to pinch in from their wing roles, in part because neither is a natural winger, but against Panama they need to take advantage of the space behind the Panama fullbacks. The more effective they are on the flanks, the more they will force Panama’s fullbacks to stay honest and be careful about how much they attack.

Jurgen Klinsmann will be confident in his centerbacks dealing with Panama’s outstanding forward tandem of Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres, but you can bet both Kyle Beckerman and Stuart Holden will look to close the space in front of the central defense. Both Perez and Torres are mobile and like to float deep into midfield to create space for teammates and work combinations. Besler and Goodson both have to be cautious about not getting sucked upfield too easily.

Holden had freedom to join the attack against Honduras, in part because of a lack of attacking threat from Honduras’ central midfield. Panama’s central midfielders aren’t exactly attacking dynamos either, but what Panama has is far more dangerous forwards who need to have their space limited. Don’t expect Holden as a true second No. 6 alongside Beckerman, but he is very likely to have more defensive responsibilities this time around, particularly with the crafty Perez floating into the middle of the field.

Landon Donovan is key to the U.S. attack, in large part because of his ability to find the weakness in opposing defenses and pull at the threads until they fall apart. Whether it is the more athletically imposing but slower Torres, or the quicker and less experienced Chen, Panama will have a hard time keeping up with Donovan. Especially if Donovan floats underneath Johnson in a 4-2-3-1.

That deployment allows Donovan the freedom to switch sides, combine with either Torres or Corona, while isolating Johnson on one Panamanian centerback, most likely Roman Torres. This is where Panama will miss captain Felipe Baloy. Chen is a promising athletic centerback, but he’s young (just 19) and asking him to deal with Donovan’s movement could be a bit too much to ask.

Defensively, the U.S. will need to contain Perez and Torres, and the doing so starts with neutralizing their fullbacks and pressing their wingers. Panamanian wide midfielders Marcos Sanchez and Alberto Quintero are quick, and capable of flipping sides of the field, but to call either of them a top-class winger would be a stretch. Quintero is the more dangerous of the tandem, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him deployed on the left to try and test the slower Michael Parkhurst. To his credit, Parkhurst has been fairly reliable defensively in the Gold Cup, and another strong showing in the final could really boost his chances of remaining a part of the team’s plans for September’s World Cup qualifiers.

All 22 players will be facing pressure in Sunday’s final, but if there are two who will be under the spotlight and be major keys to their team having success, it is centerbacks Clarence Goodson and Roberto Chen. Goodson has had a strong Gold Cup, but is about to face the best forward tandem he will see in this Gold Cup. Chen is a teenager who could wind up having to chase Donovan all over the field. The player who has the better game between Goodson and Chen could go a long way to determining who wins Sunday’s final.

So what does the U.S. need to do to win? Press Panama’s fullbacks, get Torres and Corona involved in the attack, along with a mobile Donovan. If they do that, and Kyle Beckerman can help the U.S. centerbacks squeeze the space Perez and Torres have to work with.

What does Panama need to do? The Canaleros need to keep Donovan under wraps, their wingers need to be dangerous and effective, their central midfield will need to contribute to the attack and not just serve as a shield for the defense, and Jaime Penedo will need to have a monster game. If they put those things together, and Blas Perez can cause problems for the U.S. in yet another Gold Cup (he has had his share of success against the Americans in year’s past), then Panama can pull off the upset at Soldier Field.

If it sounds like Panama needs a lot to happen in order to win, it’s because this U.S. team is playing extremely well, and even though Jurgen Klinsmann won’t be on the sidelines, the the strong and confident team he has built will still be on the field. Look for the Americans to post the victory, a 3-1 triumph, with Donovan, Holden and Eddie Johnson providing the goals.


  1. Spurs are in dire need of a striker and he would be free. Give him a two year contract to add 10+ goals a year. Definitely better than Adebayor.

    • Spurs are in need of a classic Striker, not a wide forward who can play striker in a pinch.

      I love LD and think he has the skills to play at a team of Spurs quality, but at the moment, he doesn’t really fill a need with the signing of Chadli (unless we sell Bale)

  2. Haters, realists, pragmatists, those USMNT fans who daren’t dream; get out your knives. I’m going to say it: Donovan should go to Europe.

    This is insomnia driven craziness, I know. I know it can’t happen contract wise. I know the Galaxy need him. I know he’s 31. And yes, in the current WC cycle it wouldn’t be prudent to unsettle a good thing. A thousand other reasons.

    But I have never seen him play so well in all aspects of his game for such an extended period. How satisfying for him and American soccer fans would it be for him to carry this form/love of the game over to Roma, Everton, Sunderland, Tottenham(!) or even Man U (oh yes I did). Hell, let him excise all his demons and rip it up in the Bundesliga.

    Time for my medicine. Good night.

    • Contract is up at the end of the year, if Galaxy plan on getting any money for him on a transfer, they need to sell before August 31st.

    • I would love to see him make a move to Europe also, G in Humboldt. I have no doubt he is good enough to play for a top team and make an impact. I think his contract ends in December, meaning he could go for a bargain-level transfer fee this summer or sign a Bosman now for a free transfer in January. I can’t help but think that the Galaxy/MLS would honor a transfer request from Donovan after all he has done over the years for club/league/USMNT and let him go.

      All that said, my only concern would be the uncertainty of a move on the eve of the WC 2014. But I think it wold be a risk worth taking and I think chances are very high that Donovan would succeed at a new team.

    • I’m in. I was just thinking the other day that if Moyes keeps striking out on transfers and Rooney happens to leave?…..

    • Instead of signing his last contract with the Galaxy, he should have gone to Everton, which he really liked. Although he still has speed and is playing well, he will probably have to go on a free transfer in January, and might have to take a pay cut if he wants to go to Europe because of his age and lack of European playing time. Since Moyes has moved to Man U, he might have to go to somewhere other than Everton (although Martinez might like him since he is well acquainted with American soccer), probably a mid table team.

  3. If Gonzalez is not going to play tomorrow, the Galaxy were screwed for no reason. We could have really used OG on a corner kick in the first half and to break up a counter in the second. It is wrong of JK to bring him in to watch.

    • Not the case at all. It is Juergen’s job to bring in players he thinks he may need to win the Gold Cup.

      Not to say that it doesn’t hurt the Galaxy cause it does, but I don’t think the USMNT coach should have to worry about the impact on an MLS team when he is putting together a roster for our regional championship (official FIFA event). It’s not like we’re talking about a friendly.

      Also, what if Besler or Goodson get hurt? In a final, ill feel much better having gonzo coming on as a sub than any other CB we have (not a knock on Orozco who has played well).

      • the late callups are to provide bench depth? since when WhiteHart? that’s what the other callups who have been in camp for weeks are for, like if someone gets hurt as you mention

        Of course I believe Goodson will start, he’s played great.

      • Klinsmann had the option to replace up to 4-players after the group stage. He did.

        I get it that it sucks as a Galaxy fan, but I don’t think Klinsmann should care about an MLS regular season game when he is making roster decisions regarding the regional championship (theoretically a major tournament). His goal is to win the tournament, and obviously he thought calling Gonzales in gives him a better roster/chance to do that. Whether that is to be quality depth in case of an injury or as a potential starter, he made the decision that Gonzales would be a good addition to the squad for the semis/final.

  4. I say EJ has earned his spot on the team come Brazil. After LD and Jozy, he has shown the vision to create unexpected plays that lead to goals. EX: the flick on header to LD and to Bedoya. Also he can play the wing if needed so he is a must have for the WC.

  5. What’s Chandler’s status? Will he be good in September? I’m having dreams of Mexico needing three points in Columbus to stay afloat in WCQ and getting blown apart by the US.

    Also, does anyone think there’s a decent chance someone like JABrooks or Yedlin matures enough this year to warrant JK taking a flyer on them for the WC?

    • Oh yeah, let us all pray that this time around Chandler will take pity on us all and decide to grace the US team with his presence.

    • Best bet on that is probably JAB, given his (alleged) call up to the Bosnia game. And it might be worth offering him a fourth-string CB spot on the World Cup team next year as a 21 year old (essentially Goodson in 2010 – only field player not to see a minute) in order to lock him up for the future.

  6. I can’t predict who JK will start, he has baffled everyone at times. That said, in the obvious who starts there spots, Wondo vs EJ, Corono vs Bedoya, Goodson vs Gonzales, Torres vs Castillo, Besler vs Orozco, Diskerud vs Holden it is hard to argue that there is really a bad choice. In most ways that is a good situation, but it can be touchy for the player who has performed well to be left off the starting 11.

  7. I like the projected line up. I love the savvy Torres brings in that pinched in roll. I think we see LD drifting out to the wing, maybe EJ also to help pin the Panama fullbacks. I’m still shocked that LD hasn’t been the victim of a lot of hard cynical fouls, but Stu and Torres have the vision and passing ability to hurt them if they lose defensive shape committing to much attention to tracking LD. Hopefully we continue the pattern of scoring first and early. I’ve really enjoyed watching this team, the chemistry is great, the boys are confident and happy, with so many smart players linking well…the movement off the ball has been fantastic. Hopefully it translates to the full side in the qualies.

  8. Any viewing suggestions for a guy “stranded” on the Greek isles?
    Trust me, die hard USNT fan over here…
    Just a guy trying to appease the in-laws…

    • LD is always listed as a forward too. The list is good but jack Mac didn’t even get a sniff against Belize so it’s hard to see JK from taking him over Boyd but a year is a while to go still. Wondo misses the cut as a backu for brazil.

    • The only surefire forwards are Jozy and Landon. Outside of that, form and injuries will dictate who goes out of Gomez, EJ, Boyd (plays well for club but hasn’t shown well recently for country), and Wondow.

    • Right now Wondo is clearly better than Jack Mac and while he is a different kind of player than Boyd so comparing them on absolute terms is meaningless, Right now Wondo has done better for the Nats than Boyd has. The guy Boyd is competing with for a spot is more likely Gordon than Wondo. The choice will probably be made more on style of play than overall quality since MacInerney, Wondo, Gomez, Boyd and Gordon are not that similar, but pretty much all able to do what they do well.

    • I would say that there are quite a few question marks surrounding Gomez these days and McInerney has yet to see the field.

  9. someone hand me the clue phone. JK can’t be on the sidelines. can he be in the locker room, stands, on phone calls?

  10. Since Gonzalez did not start the semi-final, there is no way he starts the final. I think Klinsmann will go with Holden over Diskerud because of Holden’s experience in bigger games. Finally, I see Bodoya getting the nod over Corona–again, a more experienced player, and one who is more of a defensive presence than Corona. And Soldier Field is principally laid out for American football, so it is on the narrow side.

  11. I agree with Ives on the 3-1 prediction. But I think Gonzo starts over Goodson.

    I also don’t know if Holden or Diskerud will be the second CM (Beckerman will definitely start), but I don’t think it matters. Both have played well during the tournament and either will help the team win.

  12. if there’s a game to use Gonzalez in for his aerial prowess and physicality this would be it-he is less likely to get pushed around versus Blas Perez than Goodson-both are good in the air, but OG is stronger. I am still not sold on Omar as a shoo-in starter, but of the two games he was called in for this one seems the more logical one to play in.

    If OG does not play, then it fugures that Goodson is even with him for the chance to start at RCB come next round of qualifiers… I see weaknesses in both and would like to see Orozco and a few others be given a chance at RCB-arguably the weakest starting spot on the USMNT

  13. Big game for both teams. I have enjoyed watching panama play during this tournament and I think that they’ve proven to be a team to reckon with in the area. I think Donovan and Johnson up top are just too hot right now and although, physically and athletically, panama is the most imposing team we’ve seen so far, the US will find ways to create shots and eventually the dam will break. If the game stays even during the first half then I see panama really licking their chops in the second half, but if we can pull away early like we did vs Honduras, I don’t think panama is built to play from behind.

    On a side note, I think Quintero is one of the more underrated and under-mentioned players of the tournament. Not “top class” as Ives says, but MLS teams could use a speedy, clever winger like him. I’ve seen him dust 2-3 defenders at a time in both Mexico games. He’s small so he gets knocked around a bit and draws fouls but he was a few goals away from being an MVP type player for panama. I wanna see him vs the American defenders. Can’t wait for tomorrow

  14. Any word on the ticket sales ? Is the game going to be sold out ? now that Mexico is not there. Hopefully is sold out with a huge usa crowd.

  15. Personally, I’m expecting Mixx to start over Holden. With Holden getting the whole game on Wed, I’d be surprised if he went 2 games in a row with only 3 days of rest.

    The only weak spots for the US are Parkhurst and Torres.

    I’m hoping at some point JK tries Bedoya as a RB and tries to interchange Bedoya and Corona.

    I was also hoping to see Castillo as a LM to interchange with DMB

    Other than those 2, I have no complaints. This team has played very well and surpassed my expectations. Kudos to the coaching staff and the players

  16. I am excited to see this final. I am enjoying the Goodson besler combo, and wouldn’t be surprised to see that in the wcq.

    • Don’t be so easily fooled by what is essentially a B team competition. Goodson has proven time and again that he’s not good enough for the big games that really matter. He would be a disaster in the World Cup.

  17. Some interesting decisions for Klinsmann: Diskerud or Holden? Gonzalez or Goodson? We will see soon enough. I’m also curious to see how the team responds without Klinsmann there and with Vazquez and Herzog on the bench.

    • Honestly, I think Diskerud sees the game better than Holden. He sprays the ball around so much better and in to open space making it easy for our wingers to cross the ball in.

      • Holden has more experience playing against tougher competition so he should get the nod. Goodson who I don’t think can hack it at the next level has earned the right to start.He has played (reasonably) well throughout the tournament and hasn’t given Juergin the reason to sit him. While he may verry well have a gaffe that could potentially cost us the game, can anyone here realistically say that this possiblity isn’t there with Gonzales in the lineup?

    • I think the Goodson/Gonzalez decision is an easy one. Why swap in Gonzalez for Goodson this late in the tournament? Goodson has done his job pretty well, and it seems a bit more risky to disrupt the existing chemistry between Besler and Goodson.

      Diskerud/Holden and Corona/Bedoya seem like the real tough decisions to make. I would give the nod to Holden and Bedoya personally, but it’s certainly a tough call. To his credit though, Klinsmann seems to be very good at making the right calls in these situations.

      • Goodson over Gonzo.

        Diskerud and Bedoya.

        The reason i say Bedoya is his energy. He makes things happen. Corona may have more quality (and can operate better in tighter space) but against Panama there will be enough space for Bedoya

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