Chris Armas

U.S., Panama face off in Gold Cup final

will be on the field. Also, they can trust in their unexpected but impressive performance in the tournament so far.

In their first Gold Cup appearance since 1993 - when they went winless - Panama started this year's competition with a 1-0 win against Colombia. They then drew with Trinidad & Tobago and narrowly dropped their final group match 1-0 to Honduras, finishing second in the group behind the catrachos. A quarterfinal win over guest side South Africa on penalty kicks preceded their defeat of Colombia in the semis.

The U.S. road to the final has not gone completely according to plan, but Bruce Arena's men have shown their quality in the long run.

Their opening group game against Cuba featured an early scare when the Caribbean side took a 1-0 lead and held it until just before halftime, when the U.S. started a string of four unanswered goals to win 4-1. A 2-0 win against Canada and a scoreless draw with Costa Rica followed, as the U.S. finished at the top of the group. In the quarterfinals, the North Americans easily handled Jamaica before pulling out the semifinal win. Arena won't be on the sidelines for Sunday's final, as he was sent off midway through the second half on Thursday for protesting a call that went against the U.S.

As he has in nearly all of his recent national team appearances, Donovan has been the brightest light on the field for the U.S. The MLS All-Star has scored three goals in the tournament and has had a hand in three others. Former Fire midfielder DaMarcus Beasley and Kansas City Wizards striker Josh Wolff have also made their mark, as have New England Revolution teammates Pat Noonan and Clint Dempsey, who both came on as substitutes in the second half against Honduras to help settle the U.S. effort and create attacking chances.

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.