New England Soccer Today

Round 2

It’s not often a team gets a chance to face an opponent twice in the same tournament, but that’s exactly the opportunity the United States Men’s National Team has when they face Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals on Wednesday. And after a shocking defeat to the Panamanians in the group stages, the U.S. will be looking to prove their surprise loss was nothing more than a fluke.

Another strong performance from Clint Dempsey on Wednesday could go a long way towards sending the U.S. into the Gold Cup Final. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/

On June 11th the U.S. put in their worst performance of the tournament, looking slow and flat-footed and at times even lazy and overconfident as they were upset 2-1 by Panama. After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the U.S. was unable to recover with a slightly improved second half performance, leaving their chances of qualifying for the next round of the Gold Cup, as well as head coach Bob Bradley’s future with the national team, in peril.

Since then, the U.S. put in a dominant performance against Guadeloupe that wasn’t reflected in the game’s 1-0 score line. That win sent the U.S. to the quarterfinals as Group C runners-up. The U.S. would go on to completely outclass Group B winners Jamaica in the quarterfinals, advancing to face Panama in the semifinals with a 2-0 victory.

The manner of that win helped to dispel many of the worries brought upon by the team’s poor performance against Panama just a week prior. Whether it was overconfidence, a bad match-up or just a bad day for a tired U.S. team, their match against Panama was the low point of 2011 for the team thus far. Another loss to Panama on Wednesday would send the U.S. crashing out of the Gold Cup with no second chances this time.

And the pressure is on the U.S. to make sure that is not the case. Heading into the Gold Cup as the hosts and four time winners, the U.S was seen by many as the favorites to win the tournament. A second loss to Panama would be a huge disappointment and represent a massive setback to the U.S. Soccer program that has grown to become the top country in CONCACAF over the past two decades.

But there is plenty of reason for hope for the U.S. The move of captain Carlos Bocanegra to center back and insertion of Eric Lichaj in the defense while Tim Ream was sent to the bench has greatly aided the U.S. backline in the past two matches. Star midfielder/striker Clint Dempsey bounced back from two subpar performances against Panama and Guadeloupe with a fantastic effort against Jamaica. Landon Donovan, the U.S.’s most clutch performer in the 2010 World Cup and many times over the last decade, should be fairly well rested after spending most of the last match on the bench.

“We’re getting better every game,” Dempsey said to “That’s what you want in a tournament. You don’t want to start off peaking. You want to build up. I think we’re doing that.”

On the Panamanian side, Blas Perez is out suspended after being ejected in Panama’s penalty shootout victory over El Salvador. Perez, one of Panama’s top players, played a role in his team’s victory over the U.S. by earning the penalty kick that gave his side their second goal. And after playing over 120 minutes on Sunday, the rest of the squad could hardly be blamed if they aren’t in top form Wednesday.

There are no excuses for U.S. on Wednesday. A win and a trip to the final is the only acceptable result. The Americans have a rare chance to avenge a hugely disappointing loss just 11 days later and a failure to take it could have repercussions that would affect the U.S. for the next four year cycle culminating with World Cup 2014 and beyond.

The U.S. and Panama kick off at 7p.m. ET at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. The match can be seen live on Fox Soccer Channel and Univison.

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