72713_ej_beasleyusmntjn0911132764 Joe Nuxoll/isiphotos.com
Preparing for Panama

Panama Will Send Out Its "A Team" in Gold Cup Final

Sunday's Gold Cup Final will feature Panama's A Team against a United States squad that includes a few rehabbing vets and wet-behind-the-ears youngsters. It should be quite a spectacle.
BY John Godfrey Posted
July 27, 2013
7:49 PM
CHICAGO—If World Cup qualifying ended today, Panama, currently in fifth place in the six-team Hexagonal, would be on the outside looking in. Eliminated. Devastated.

Which is probably why the Federación Panameña de Fútbol elected to use the 2013 Gold Cup less as a proving ground for second-tier players and more as an extended training camp for the first-team regulars. The implicit message to Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes and his men: Get your act together, and get back into contention for a World Cup spot.

All told, eight of the Panama players who started against Mexico in Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal also started against the United States in the June 11 World Cup qualifier in Seattle. A ninth player who started against El Tri earlier this week, Blas Perez, was injured for the Hex contest; otherwise he certainly would have started that match too.

In other words, Panama is using its A Team in the 2013 Gold Cup, while the other regional powers—including the U.S.—have rosters filled with rehabbing veterans and unproven youngsters. Not surprisingly, Panama has looked great during this regional competition.

And the contrasting personnel approaches could make for a very competitive final on Sunday (3:30 p.m. Eastern, FOX).

“I think they’re a very talented team,” Landon Donovan said Saturday. “Physically, they’re very gifted. And they’ve had what a lot of teams in this tournament haven’t had: a lot of guys who’ve played together for a while. They know each other very well. There’s a reason they’ve gotten to this point.”

United States captain DaMarcus Beasley agrees with his longtime teammate.

“They’ve got very quick players, and they’ve been playing together for a while,” Beasley said. “They sit back sometimes, and let the other team come to them, but when they attack, they come with all numbers. They’re very good on the ball. They’ve got very good midfielders and skill players. It’s not going to be an easy game.”

As United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann pointed out, "It’s pretty much the same team” the U.S. played in Seattle in June, and while the U.S. prevailed, it was no cakewalk. A second half goal from Eddie Johnson gave the U.S. a 2-0 victory, but it was a tense battle up to that point.

“They’ve kept the flow," Klinsmann said. "They know where each other is running. Their two forwards, [Blas] Perez and [Manuel] Torres, are dangerous. Their flank play is exceptional. This is a very good team, and they will give everything they have. It will be a nail biter.”

While Panama is absolutely fielding its A Team, it’s not entirely true that the U.S. has its B Squad in place. Donovan, for instance, is still one of the top five or six American players. And late roster additions such as Matt Besler, Eddie Johnson, and Omar Gonzalez could give the U.S. a B+/A- roster of talent for Sunday’s contest.

Regardless, the American coach and players cannot wait to get on with it.

“We’ll be mindful of what they’re good at and what they want to do, but I think what’s made us successful is we’re playing the way we want to play,” Donovan said, “And we’re dictating the tempo and the rhythm and the pace of the game, and I think teams have had trouble coping with that. We intend on doing the same tomorrow.”

“Our confidence right now could not be any higher.”

Stuart Holden said that as of Saturday afternoon, the American players did not yet know who was starting and who was on the bench. He said it didn’t really matter.

“Jurgen has done a great job of managing minutes, rotating guys, and still getting results,” he said. “I have full confidence in whichever 11 guys are chosen tomorrow to go out there. I’m ready to put in another 90 minutes if called upon.”

Eddie Johnson is ready too.

“I think they’re going to come out and play,” he said, noting that many of the teams the U.S. has faced in the Gold Cup have adopted defensive postures. “They’re going to try to take the game to us just like we’re going to try to take the game to them. But at the end of the day it’s just going to be two good teams fighting to win a cup tomorrow.”

Klinsmann, who is suspended for the match and will not be able to join the team at the stadium, took the opportunity to contextualize the challenge the day before the contest.

“We are ready to win this trophy,” he said. “The team is doing very well. The team is working in a way that has been a real joy to watch the last four weeks. Very focused, very dedicated, very committed."

“We all know it’s going to be a very difficult game. Panama is there for a reason. They beat Mexico twice."

"We are ready for it.”

And what about you, American soccer obsessives? Are you ready for it? Have a prediction to share? The comments section is all yours.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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