Blas Perez of Panama and Dwayne De Rosario of Canada lay out for an aerial ball.

Gold Cup: Canada "devastated," head home ruing missed chance

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Canada came into this Gold Cup with arguably its greatest base of talent in men’s national team history. They leave with their tail between their legs, eliminated at the group stage for the first time in three tournaments.

In the minutes immediately after their 1-1 draw with Panama on Tuesday at Livestrong Sporting Park that effectively knocked them out — even before the US win over Guadeloupe that officially put the nail in the Maple Leaf coffin — there was one simple word to sum it all up: disappointment.

“We were so close,” Vancouver midfielder Terry Dunfield lamented to “No one wants to go home and ... it’s back to the Whitecaps now.”

Canada were barely 60 seconds from securing a victory over Panama when Luis Tejada poked home a goalmouth scramble in second-half stoppage time that evened up matters and saw the Red Tide clinch top spot in Group C. As Panama celebrated wildly, Canada stood around in disbelief, knowing they blew their chance to go on.

But they also know they shot themselves in the foot time and again in their three group-stage games by continuously failing to put the ball in the back of the net against the US, Guadeloupe and Panama. Canada failed to score a single goal in the run of play in this tournament, their only two strikes coming from the penalty spot courtesy of Dwayne De Rosario.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t score, you don’t win,” head coach Stephen Hart said in the postgame press conference. “Simple as that.”

Hart did everything he could to light a fire under his team, shifting formations, alternating Simeon Jackson and Ali Gerba in the forward role, even shifting his wingers, as he did Tuesday in the 20th minute when he re-deployed De Rosario wide left and rotated Josh Simpson right.

What more could Hart have done with the personnel on hand?

“Nothing — get a pair of boots,” joked the former midfielder.

Truth be told, Canada did perhaps their best job of controlling tempo and executing buildup play against the Panamanians, who could afford to sit back with their spot in the quarterfinals secured. But for all the good interplay, the final touch wasn’t there yet again.

Jackson shanked badly on an open look on goal in the fourth minute. Julian de Guzman had a great look in the 29th after a pretty back-and-forth between Nik Ledgerwood and De Rosario, but put his shot at ‘keeper Luis Mejía’s feet. Four minutes later, De Rosario himself had a nice look at goal while racing in from the end line, but drove the ball into the side netting.

“I think we played really well today, especially the first half,” said Dunfield. “We passed around and created some great chances. Another day, we could have been two or three up at halftime. But that probably cost us in the end and one little lapse of concentration killed us.”

Now, Canada are headed home ruing a missed opportunity to announce a new era of Canadian soccer and are instead thinking about the next challenge.

“Everybody is devastated about what happened,” said Hart, “and we just have to pick our heads up going into [2014] World Cup qualification and be a little more efficient, especially in front of goal. If we can do that — our approach play has not been bad in the three games. We need somebody to hit scoring form.”

If only it were that easy.