The U.S. Men’s National Team went into the match Saturday against Panama having not beaten Los Canaleros since a friendly in February 2015. It seems like Panama always plays the USMNT particularly tough with the memory of being eliminated from the 2014 World Cup lingering especially long for the Central Americans. The Stars and Stripes began their bid to win its sixth Gold Cup on Saturday and after a largely lackluster performance they came away with a draw, good for 1 point in Group B.
Panama came out and showed that they were not scared of the U.S. Rather than sitting back and absorbing pressure, the team in white pressed the Red, White, and Blue in the Panama half and never let the U.S. settle into a rhythm. Central attacking midfielder Joe Corona was starved for service and did not impress the times he got the ball. Kellyn Acosta, who had several solid performances before today, was anonymous in the match. It all added up to the midfield looking disjointed all half and the U.S. being unable to breakdown Panama for the first 45.
Indeed, the best chances for the team came from Kelyn Rowe, who had a standout game in attack, shooting from distance in the 5th minute and then later working a nice sequence with Jorge Villafana leading to another shot that keeper Jose Calderon blocked in the 26th minute. After the water break, Dom Dwyer forced turnovers at midfield leading to some threatening breakaways for the U.S., but neither sequences led to the Stars and Stripes finding the net.
As the first half lurched to an end, Panama forward Ismael Diaz pushed a low shot just wide of Brad Guzan’s goal and referee Fernando Guerrero Ramírez mercifully blew his whistle.
The second half began more brightly for the U.S. Again, the left side of the attack provided the excitement as Jorge Villafana threw in a ball to Kelyn Rowe who sent a low cross to Dwyer. The striker one-timed the ball, ripping a low shot that nutmegged a Panama defender and went past an outstretched Jose Calderon to put the U.S. ahead 1-0.
After giving up the goal, Panama began aggressively playing for an equalizer and the U.S. struggled to regain momentum. After nearly five minutes of relentless pressure, two brilliant saves by Brad Guzan, and a miss on an open net, Panama scored in the 60th minute on a low shot by Miguel Camargo.
Panama drew back after evening the score with the U.S. who fought on for a game winner. Coach Bruce Arena brought on Juan Agudelo for Joe Corona just after the hour mark and took Rowe off for Gyasi Zardes at 69 minutes. The new attacking players for the U.S. couldn’t find a breakthrough and Jordan Morris was brought on for Alejandro Bedoya who limped off the field in the 84th minute.
Once Rowe was taken off, the U.S. was completely missing a creative force on the field. The ball continued to be stuck in midfield with the Stars and Stripes having to settle for crosses that were easily cleared by Panama. With all of the goal scoring talent on the pitch for the U.S., the team still had no players with a creative spark to breakthrough against Panama and failed to find a game winner as the game ended 1-1.