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Gold Cup: US ready for “strong” Panama side on Saturday

TAMPA, Fla. - With top spot in Group C on the line Saturday night, Bob Bradley’s side are expecting a good fight from a Panama team that loves to mix it up.

“They’re a team that physically gives you challenges, they have some individuals who are athletic, and also some guys who on their own can cause trouble,” the American boss said at training on Friday. “We have a lot of respect for them.”

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Striker Jozy Altidore and goalkeeper Tim Howard echoed their coach’s sentiments. They expect a tough battle from the Panamanians, who are likely to pressure the American players all over the field.

“Panama will try to run and close us down and cause us problems physically,” Howard said.

“They’re really strong,” added Altidore. “It’s going to be a good game. It’s definitely not an opponent you can take lightly.”

While Panama’s athleticism and physicality are at the top of the Americans’ list of things to focus on heading into the match, much attention will also be paid to the creativity of the Central American side, especially from the middle of the park.

“In possession of the ball, they’re very good,” Howard said. “We understand from when we’ve played them before, we played them tight over the last couple of years and we expect the same tomorrow night.”

Steve Cherundolo agreed with Howard’s assessment of Panama. And while he acknowledges that he and his fellow defenders will have their hands full with their opponents on Saturday, he believes that the United States can play the same style of game and present similar challenges to the Central American side.

“[Panama] is a team who likes the ball, can take care of the ball and is technically very good,” Cherundolo said. “Hopefully we can possess the ball as well at our end, and hopefully we can be a little more dangerous going forward than we were against Canada [on Tuesday night].”