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By Ivan Orozco via GoldCup.org
HOUSTON – They say they have put it behind them.
It is a thing of the past. But it might be difficult to forget a loss to a Central American rival when that same foe is the only thing in the way from a Gold Cup final.
The United States will have a shot at redemption Wednesday night when it takes on Panama in the first semifinal of a doubleheader at Reliant Stadium. Mexico takes on Honduras in the second semifinal.
Coach Bob Bradley’s squad is looking to avenge a 2-1 loss to La Marea Roja on June 11 in Tampa, Florida – its only loss to Panama and its only defeat in the first round of the Gold Cup. Another shot against Panama means more this time around.
The winner clinches a spot in the Gold Cup final Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. For the United States, it is another opportunity to perhaps prove that it is better than what it showed against Panama during the group stage. It wants to prove it is still one of the best in the region and worthy of another trip to the Confederations Cup.
“We were disappointed on how we played Panama,” American midfielder Landon Donovan said Tuesday. “Having another opportunity to redeem ourselves is nice, but that doesn’t guarantee anything.
“They’re going to come into the game confident. They’ve played us well over the years and now they’ve beaten us recently. They’ll be confident.”
Panama has reason to be confident after its last outing against the Americans. It was able to take advantage of the United States’ slow start.
“The most important thing is that we learned that we can’t start a game like that, without energy, without will and conviction,” Donovan said in Spanish “When we play against a good team and we start like that, it is possible we can lose. We responded well in the second half and we had opportunities to tie the game but it was too much for us that night.”
Panama took advantage of the United States’ passive start and held on to a second half surge. Clarence Goodson scored in the 66th minute. The United Sates continued to attack but could not get an equalizer. Gabriel Gomez’s first-half tally and own-goal by Goodson were enough to snap a United States 26-game Gold Cup group stage unbeaten streak.
It was also enough to put a dent in the United State’s pride and credibility, with some wondering if the United States had lost its edge.
“The loss against Panama was bad,” Donovan said. “We felt terrible after that game. We want to do things differently (Wednesday).”
Bradley expects a different team on the field this time around.
“We went into the game knowing that Panama was a strong team,” Bradley said. “We saw a bunch of little things that I think we did well that we want to repeat in the next game, and there were things that needed to be better.
“We just need to be sharper. We all said it right after the game, we didn’t think that was our best game.”
The United States and Panama know each other well. This is the fourth consecutive Gold Cup they have met in the knockout round, starting with the final in 2005 when the Americans prevailed on penalties.
Despite beating the United States earlier this month, Panama remains the underdog.
Despite having only beaten the United States once in nine tries, Panama striker Blas Perez, who will miss the match because of a red card in the quarterfinals, is confident Panama can beat the United States twice in 11 days.
“A surprise, no,” said Perez, who was ejected between regulation and extra time in Panama’s penalty kick win against El Salvador. “People are surprised because we beat them for the first time in the tournament. But we work to give that deadly punch and hopefully we can do that tomorrow by possessing the ball and scoring goals.”
Perez’ physical presence could be missed. He drew a foul from U.S. defender Tim Ream in the penalty area to set up Gabriel Gomez’s penalty kick in the teams’ first meeting.
It’s a match that appears to still linger for both teams — even if they say they’ve moved on.
Questions expecting Mexico-United States abound
Players for both Mexico and the United States have repeatedly been ask to give their thoughts on the possibility of having a rematch of the last two Gold Cup finals with a Mexico-United States showdown. Members of both teams tried to avoid the topic. Others gave brief comments on the possible match up.
“Mexico has placed fantastic these days. It is a favorite in all of its games,” Donovan said. “They are playing well and with a figure such as Chicharito (Javier Hernandez), everything is possible. But we are focused on what we are doing. If we reach the final and so does Mexico, then we will be ready but right now, it’s all about Panama.”
Clint Dempsey had a similar approach.
It will be good. Obviously they’re a top side,” Dempsey said. “It would be good for the fans to watch that game if it happens. For that to happen, both of us have to win our next games. you don’t want to talk too much about that because we still have important game (Wednesday).
2011 CONCACAF GOLD CUP SCHEDULE
HONDURAS vs MEXICO – BUY TICKETS
z-matches scheduled for 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. local (7 p.m. and 10 p.m. EDT) with order TBD