The United States will play for a fifth Concacaf Gold Cup title when they take on Panama in the final in Chicago on Sunday. The matchup will be a repeat of the 2005 final and the first in the biennial competition since then not to feature both the U.S. and Mexico after Panama stunned El Tri for the second time in the tournament, 2-1, in Wednesday’s semifinal.
The U.S. is now strong favorite to lift the trophy for the first time since 2007, although that will now have to be achieved without manager Jurgen Klinsmann. The German has been suspended for the final after being sent from the touchline in the semifinal win over Honduras “for showing dissent towards the referee by throwing the ball in a violent manner," Concacaf’s disciplinary committee found.
Klinsmann’s side have breezed through the Gold Cup to this point, claiming victories in all five matches to date to extend their all-time record winning record to 10. And that has been achieved with a largely B-strength lineup. Yet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see Landon Donovan as anything other than an integral member of Klinsmann’s side when World Cup qualifying resumes in September.
After a hiatus at the start of the year, Donovan was excluded from international action until the Gold Cup but has shown his form of old with five goals and seven assists in the competition. After the L.A. Galaxy forward netted twice in the U.S.’s 3-1 win over Honduras, Klinsmann claimed that Donovan has been inspired by fighting to get back into the international picture ahead of next year’s World Cup.
"He's proving a point that he's hungry to come back into our picture," Klinsmann said, according to the Concacaf website. "Every game he wants to prove it and show that, and he's doing very well." "I told him in our conversations that my benchmark is the best Landon Donovan ever. I'm not taking anything less than that."
Panama faces a stiff test to overcome a U.S. side that got the better of it, 2-0, in World Cup qualifying action in Seattle just six weeks ago. Still, in their ranks they have Gabriel Torres, who sits level with Donovan and Chris Wondolowski atop the Gold Cup scoring charts and FC Dallas’s Blas Perez, who has found the net three times. With the U.S. having scored 19 goals en route to final, much of Panama’s focus is likely to be at the other end of the pitch, but coach Julio Dely Valdes is not planning on making any special preparations for their latest opponents.
"We're going to try not to change many things," he said. "You can't really change anything drastically at this point. We have to continue to be the same since that has gotten us this far. But we also know the U.S., the team that we're facing tomorrow also is unlike previous games that we played against them."
D: Parkhurst, Goodson, Besler, Beasley
M: Bedoya, Beckerman, Holden, Torres
F: Donovan, E. Johnson
D: Rodriguez, R. Torres, Parris, Chen
M: Quintero, Sanchez, Gomez, Godoy
F: Perez, G. Torres
Prediction: Panama should give the U.S. a real test, with Torres and Perez, supported by Alberto Quintero, able to cause the opposition defense genuine concern. But Donovan has shown himself to be a class apart both in his own side and the Gold Cup as a whole and, if he reproduces his performances through much of the tournament, then it is hard to see the U.S. not coming out on top. It may well not be straightforward, but in the end the U.S. should be the ones lifting the trophy, even in their coach’s absence.
USA 2-1 Panama
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.