Canada need a win. Simple as that. And then they need some help from other teams. That's the only way the Canucks -- who sit in last place in Group A after two straight shutout losses -- have any chance of moving onto the quarterfinals.
Panama, on the other hand, sit on top of the group and have already booked their tickets to the next round. They'll finish in first position in the group automatically with a win or a draw. If Panama lose, it will come down to goal differential, but only if Mexico and Martinique do not finish in a draw.
After the comparatively comfortable conditions in Seattle, the teams arrived into hot, and humid conditions in Denver as the threat of thunderstorms lingers for Sunday’s game. Altitude could also play a factor after two straight games at sea level.
Canada and Panama have met only seven times in the past. Canada hold a series lead with a 3-1-3 record.
Most recently, they split their home-and-away games in last year’s semi-final World Cup qualifying round. Dwayne De Rosario scored in Toronto as Canada escaped with a 1-0 win in early September. Then Panama beat Canada 2-0 in Panama City just a few days later. That game famously featured a power-failure delay and an injury to DeRo that forced him to miss the decisive final two World Cup qualifiers.
The two nations also met In 2011 in the group stage of the Gold Cup, turning in a 1-1 draw in Kansas City. Their first meeting took place in a World Cup qualifier in Panama City in 2000.
With everything that’s happened to Canada over the course of this tournament, it’s not too far off to say that if you’re healthy, you’ll play. Having lost players to sickness, injury, and club obligations, luck hasn’t been on Canada’s side. Will Johnson and Russell Teibert are doubtful with illnesses and Marcus Haber’s ankle and heel injury that he suffered on Thursday could keep him out, as well.
But Canada were better in the midweek 2-0 loss to Mexico than they were in the opening loss against Martinique. They rattled the woodwork twice, including a thunderous shot from Marcel de Jong, and if not for a defensive lapse on a corner kick and a suspect penalty call, they could've earned a point. But those defensive lapses continue to happen, and against Panama's attack, that could spell doom.
Already through and more concerned about with the World Cup qualifying "Hexagonal," the Panamanians have the luxury to mix and match their squad on Sunday. They have more than a few attacking options, including Blas Perez, Jairo Jimenez, and Gabriel Torres, who has scored all three of their goals so far. But the attack stalled often last time out, against Martinique, and it wasn't until they were up a man for the last 15 minutes that they asserted themselves and earned the penalty that won the match.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Julian de Guzman, midfielder
In the absence of Johnson, this will be a big test of de Guzman’s leadership. There’s been no shortage of desire in his play thus far, but he’ll have to put in his best box-to-box performance, helping out the defense and chipping in on the attack.
Panama – Jaime Penedo, goalkeeper
When Canada picked up the win in World Cup qualifying in Toronto, Penedo was caught off-guard on a quickly taken Canadian free kick. Penedo will have to be on his game because if the young Canadian team can get their first goal of the tournament early in the game, they’ll certainly want to exploit Penedo’s weaknesses in shot-stopping.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jaime Penedo (Motagua/Honduras), Luis Mejia (Fenix/Uruguay), Alex Rodriguez (Sporting San Miguelito Panama).
DEFENDERS (8): Leonel Paris (Tauro/Panama), Harold Cummings (Arabe Unido/Panama), Carlos Rodriguez (Chepo/Panama), Roman Torres (Millonarios/Colombia), Juan Cedeno (Alianza/Panama), Roderick Miller (San Francisco/Panama), Richard Dixon (Sporting San Miguelito/Panama), Roberto Chen (San Francisco/Panama).
MIDFIELDERS (8): Gabriel Gomez (Junior Barranquilla/Colombia), Marcos Sanchez (Tauro/Panama), Eybir Bonaga (Ruzomberok/Slovakia), Juan Perez (Tauro/Panama), Jairo Jimenez (Elche/Spain), Alberto Quintero (Chorrillo/Panama), Anibal Godoy (Chepo/Panama), Rolando Escobar (Deportivo Anzoategui/Venezuela).
FORWARDS (4): Blas Perez (FC Dallas), Gabriel Torres (Zamora/Venezuela), Cecilio Waterman (Fenix/Uruguay), Rolando Blackburn (Hacken/Sweden).
GOALKEEPERS (3): Lars Hirschfeld (Valerenga/Norway), Milan Borjan (Sivasspor/Turkey), Simon Thomas (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
DEFENDERS (7): Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), David Edgar (Burnley F.C./England), Adam Straith (unattached), Marcel de Jong (Augsburg/Germany), Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby/Sweden).
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC), Julian de Guzman (unattached), Samuel Piette (Fortuna Dusseldorf/Germany), Pedro Pacheco (Santa Clara/Portugal), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Issey Nakajima-Farran (Alki/Cyprus), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Keven Aleman (Real Valladolid/Spain).
FORWARDS (3): Tosaint Ricketts (Sandnes Ulf/Norway), Marcus Haber (Stevenage/England), Kyle Porter (DC United).