DAVID SMITH - Saturday, June 11, 2011
The United States can all but assure their place in the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Saturday night with a win over Group C second place team Panama.
A convincing win on Tuesday night over Canada put head coach Bob Bradley's squad in pole position in their group, and the team will be expecting to have few problems when they face Panama in Tampa, Florida.
A first-half goal by Jozy Altidore put the team ahead on Tuesday, and another after the break by Clint Dempsey saw them cruise to victory. The result was a welcome turnaround from their 4-0 thrashing at the hands of World Champions Spain in their lone warm-up before the tournament.
The victory was hardly a surprise, as the team has been historically dominant in the early stages of the competition, with an all-time record of 24 wins and two draws prior to the knockout round.
The Panamanians also got off to a flying start in their opening game against Guadeloupe, cruising to a 3-0 lead within the first hour. They were, however, forced to sweat out a late rally by the tiny island nation which saw a pair of late goals nearly bring them level.
They will come into the game with revenge on their minds, as the USA has been responsible for ending their Gold Cup hopes in the previous three tournaments. The Stars & Stripes won the 2005 final over Panama on penalties, and knocked them out at the quarterfinal stage in both 2007 and 2009.
Exacting any retribution will be a tough task. In the eight previous meetings between the two teams, the USA has notched up eight victories, with the teams drawing even on two occasions.
As the game is likely the crucial decider for securing advancement to the knock-out round, Bradley is almost certain to trot out his full-strength starting eleven, with few, if any changes to the lineup which beat Canada four days before.
The only real surprise amongst Tuesday's starters was the replacement of Oguchi Onyewu with Tim Ream in the central defense. The New York Red Bull player put together a strong performance paired with Clarence Goodson, and should hold onto his starting spot.
The young forward tandem of Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo also showed well against Canada, and will likely be on the field from the opening whistle on Saturday.
Central midfielder Michael Bradley is the only American carrying a caution into the game, however as single yellow cards are wiped out after the completion of group play, this will be of little concern.
The game kicks off at 8pm eastern time in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.