The United States claimed the Gold Cup for the fifth time in their history as they maintained their perfect record throughout the Concacaf championship to beat a resolute Panama side 1-0 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. After having largely breezed through to the final, scoring 19 goals en route, the U.S. was given a stern test by a well-organized Panama side before Break Shea broke the deadlock in the 69th minute, just seconds after coming on, with a close-range finish following Landon Donovan’s mishit shot.
It had been the first Gold Cup final since 2005 not to feature the two superpowers of Concacaf, the U.S. and Mexico, after Panama defeated El Tri 2-1 in the semifinals. And during a tedious first half it appeared that there may be a repeat of the contest from eight years ago, which went all the way to penalties as the U.S. and Panama drew 0-0. But, despite not having their suspended coach Jurgen Klinsmann on the touchline, the U.S. stepped up their game in the second half and did just enough to deservedly get their hands on the trophy.
Featuring a squad of players that hope rather than expect to be at next year’s World Cup, Klinsmann will be delighted at how the side matched through the competition and extended the nation’s all-time record win streak to 11. There will be much stiffer challenges ahead, but several players have staked their claim to be more regular parts of the squad going forward. Not least the returning Donovan.
But the L.A. Galaxy forward’s influence was largely curtailed in this final. Panama set their stall out early, happy to allow the U.S. to have the ball deep but then working tirelessly to deny their opponents space in the final third. Quite prepared to sit back, Julio Dely Valdes’s side were equally ready to launch quick counter attacks, especially down the flanks. Panama’s best opportunity of the opening period came with a quickly fired ball into the near post from danger man Alberto Quintero that the Gold Cup’s joint-top scorer Gabriel Torres was just unable to make good contact with at the near post.
With the U.S. struggling to get any passing rhythm going against then compact opponents, the side suffered a blow midway through the period when Stuart Holden was forced off. Still, the disappointment felt by the team as a whole will have been nothing compared to that felt by Holden as he suffered yet another injury to a right knee that has blighted his career in the past two years.
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Replacement Mikkel Diskerud did offer more positivity going forward in the midfield than Holden and the U.S. showed some faint signs of making inroads toward the end of the first period. Alejandro Bedoya, like his teammate on the opposite flank, Joe Corona, consistently came inside, making life easier for his opponents. But that tendency almost paid dividends as he cut inside on the edge of his area but his left-footed shot lacked conviction.
Despite lacking the words of Klinsmann at half time, the U.S. came out with far more purpose after the break and set about posing a consistent threat to the Panama goal for the first time. And the U.S. really should have been in front inside the opening 11 minutes of the period had two clear headed chances not been missed. First, Clarence Goodson put his effort wide from six-yards off of a free-kick and then Donovan planted a header poorly past the post from DaMarcus Beasley’s near-post cross with the goal at his mercy.
In between those two opportunities, Donovan also had a strong penalty appeal turned down when his cross struck a defender’s arm. It would not be long, though, before the star of the tournament played a key role in his side going ahead, albeit in highly fortunate circumstances. From Bedoya’s pass that pierced Panama’s backline for one of the few times in the match, Donovan barely made contact in front of goal but luckily for the U.S. Shea was on hand, and just onside, to make sure the ball found the back of the net from barely a yard out.
The closing stages could have been made a lot easier had Johsnon not somehow contrived to fire over from inside the six-yard box from Shea’s low cross. Yet, Panama, despite pouring forward late on, failed to create any clear-cut chances with the Roberto Chen spurning the best of the opportunities as he volleyed wide. Although far from a scintillating performance in the final, the U.S. fully warranted getting their hands on the first trophy under Klinsmann’s stewardship.