HOUSTON — The United States found redemption off the foot of Clint Dempsey to defeat Panama 1-0 at a sold out Reliant Stadium on Wednesday night to advance to the Gold Cup final for another matchup with archrivals Mexico.
Just when it seemed as though another upset may be in the works, second-half sub Landon Donovan took a feed from fellow substitute Freddy Adu in the 77th minute and picked out Dempsey near the far post, sending in a buzzing cross along the ground that Dempsey only had to tap in to put the Americans up.
The goal came at a moment when Panama were playing their best soccer of the match, controlling play and threatening to score.
The Americans looked more energized the second time around than they had in the group stage, when Panama defeated the US 2-1.
Still, each side failed to stake a claim for possession within the first quarter-hour, but it was los Canaleros who fired the first warning when, in the 11th minute, Armando Cooper took aim but fired wide left of Tim Howard’s goal.
After those first 15 minutes however, it was the US who enjoyed the majority of the ball, finding their touch and circulating the sphere around the pitch in an effort to open up some space between the Panama defenders.
In the 17th minute, US phenom Juan Agudelo could’ve used some bigger feet to put his team ahead. The striker barely failed to get on the end of a Clint Dempsey re-center, just barely beaten to the ball by Panama ‘keeper Jaime Penedo.
It was Agudelo again who came inches shy of giving the Yanks the lead in the 35th minute. Midfielder Jermaine Jones hit an outlet pass over on the right flank to Alejandro Bedoya, Donovan’s replacement in the starting lineup. Bedoya danced away from two defenders before finding Steve Cherundolo in an advanced position on the wing, and the right back swung in a cross that Agudelo hammered off the pitch and onto the crossbar.
Awoken by the close call, Panama increased efforts to keep the ball and cool the match down a bit and go into halftime at 0-0.
In the second half, Panama picked up where they had left off, keeping the ball away from the Americans while trying to create chances of their own through a series of ground passes and wing play.
However, it was nearly the US who struck again. In the 58th minute, left back Eric Lichaj launched into the attack with a run along the sideline followed by a cross that Bedoya failed to meet by inches.
Panama nearly returned the favor just three minutes later, when Nelson Barahona found some space along the left flank to send in a cross that just whizzed by Alberto Quintero in front of goal.
In the 70th minute, Cooper gave the Americans a scare, rifling a shot from inside the box that Howard somehow managed to tip over the crossbar.
Just when it seemed as though Panama were beginning to run away with the match, the Americans struck gold via Dempsey in the 77th minute. Adu found Donovan out on the flank, and the US all-time leading scorer then found enough space to dribble in and unleash a powerful low cross towards the far post that Dempsey tapped in for the lead.
Panama kept going forward in search of the equalizer, but the US warded them off and kept them on their toes with surges of their own to close out the match and send the US into Saturday's final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. They'll meet Mexico for a third straight time in the tournament finale after El Tri held off Honduras 2-0 in Wednesday's late game.
USA – Dempsey, 77’
PAN – Cooper, 18’
PAN – L. Henríquez, 36’
USA – Bocanegra, 68’
United States – Tim Howard, Eric Lichaj, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Steve Cherundolo, Sacha Kljestan (Landon Donovan, 46’), Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, Juan Agudelo (Freddy Adu, 66’)
Panama – Jaime Penedo, Roman Torres, Gabriel Gómez (Anibal Godoy, 86’), Nelson Barahona (Gabriel Torres, 86’), Armando Cooper (Luis Rentería, 71’), Adolfo Machado, Luis Henríquez, Luis Tejada, Alberto Quintero, Amilcar Henríquez, Felipe Baloy