United States and Panama duel in CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals
The United States and Panama meet for the second time in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, this time in the semifinal round at the Reliant Stadium in Houston Thursday morning.
The Americans are out to avenge their 1-2 loss to the Panamanians in the group stage. Team USA reached the last four by defeating Jamaica 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
An own goal from Jermaine Taylor and Clint Dempsey's conversion in the 80th minute sealed the win for the Americans.
US players are confident that they can avenge their loss to Panama earlier in the tournament.
"We go into this semifinal with more of a positive outlook that we're moving in the right direction," Dempsey told the Los Angeles Times.
"As the tournament's progressing, we're starting to get better and better as a team."
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan shared his sentiments.
"You look at Spain in 2010, Italy in 2006. They just got better as the tournament went on. So we're hoping to keep getting better."
Landon Donovan is also upbeat.
"As the tournament goes on, you start to build team unity," he said.
"It doesn't happen right away. You can't come in and expect after a week or two that everything is going to be clicking,"
Donovan is expected to play the full 90 minutes after playing only 25 minutes against Jamaica. Another player to watch for the Americans is goalkeeper Tim Howard, who has not yielded a goal since the Panama match.
The only sad news in the American camp is the absence of top goal scorer Jozy Altidore, who is out with an injured hamstring. Juan Agudelo is expected to start in his place.
Panama, meanwhile, is out to prove that its win over the Americans in the group stage was no fluke. Los Canaleros reached the last four by beating El Salvador 5-3 on penalties after the match ended in a 1-1 draw after regulation and extra time.
Head coach Julio Dely Valdes is expected to use the same formation he implemented in their first meeting.
He is confident that they can beat the United States again.
"Maybe for many [it would be an upset to beat the US again]," Valdes told mlssoccer.com.
"But for me, it wouldn't be a surprise. Panama has shown to be one of the most competitive teams in this tournament and that's why we are where we are."
Valdes, however, will be without suspended striker Blas Perez. Luis Tejada will again be the player to watch for Panama along with Gabriel Gomez, who scored the game-winning penalty against the Americans. Gabriel Torres, Eybir Bonaga, Alberto Quintero and Luis Renteria are also expected to provide quality minutes.
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