HOUSTON — In soccer, it’s usually one team’s mistake that results in a goal for the other. And on Wednesday night, that certainly proved true for Panama, who was hard done by an error that saw the US score the only tally of the match in a 1-0 defeat for los Canaleros.
“It was a competitive and closed match,” said Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdés after his team’s Gold Cup semifinal loss. “We felt that whoever committed the fewest mistakes would move on. I think they had had only one opportunity on goal in the first half, and we committed a mistake in their goal in the second half.”
It was just one lonely error, but it was a costly one.
With 13 minutes left in regulation and during a spell in which Panama played their best soccer of the night and were threatening to repeat the upset from their first match in the group stage, US midfielder Freddy Adu took a loose ball and picked out Landon Donovan on the right flank.
Panama defender Luis Henríquez began chasing Donovan, but strangely decided to instead make his way towards the box, forcing teammate Felipe Baloy, who was still scrambling back, to attempt to prevent the US forward from causing harm. But those few precious seconds Donovan had were all he needed as he dribbled in and found Clint Dempsey near the far post for the easy tap-in.
Perhaps the story might have been different if Panama had been able to count on star player Blas Pérez. The forward was ineligible to play against the US after seeing red in the closing stages of Panama’s quarterfinal win over El Salvador.
“I talked about it after the game against El Salvador that for me, [Pérez’s absence] would be an important one,” Dely Valdés said. “He’s a key player for our team.”
Wednesday night’s defeat may have left los Canaleros with a bitter taste in their mouths, but in the bigger picture, in the grander scheme of things, Panama feel like victors.
“Sincerely, [our performance] was better than I had hoped for,” said Dely Valdés. “When we started the tournament, we knew we’d be in the most complicated group, the most difficult group. We were able to move on, to finish as leaders of our group, and we continued to show a very competitive level. … I’m pleased with the team’s performance.”
Now for Panama, it’s up and at ‘em in the upcoming qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
“I think the distance is shortening between the greats [of CONCACAF, Mexico and the US] and the rest,” said Dely Valdés. “I think Panama showed a very competitive level and this is very important going into the qualifiers.”