KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Panama made an impassioned bid for a piece of Gold Cup history against the United States, eventually settling for a draw that kept their quarterfinal hopes alive.
Blas Perez opened the scoring in the Group A finale on Monday night at Sporting Park, but US captain Michael Bradley evened the match in the second half as Panama handed the Americans only the third draw in their Gold Cup group stage history.
No matter the result, the US were guaranteed a table-topping finish in Group A – the 13th time in 14 tries they’ve won their Gold Cup group – and will face a third-place team from either Group B or C on Saturday in Baltimore.
With the draw, Panama finish third in Group A on three points – Haiti (4 pts) took second with a 1-0 win against Honduras in the night’s opening match – giving Los Canaleros a shot at the quarterfinals depending on the final results in Group B and C.
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made good on his pregame promises to implement a “rotational system,” making nine changes to the team that defeated Haiti, 1-0, with Bradley and Brad Guzan the only holdovers for a match with no bearing on the US’ place in the knockout stages.
Alejandro Bedoya and Alfredo Morales started and made their first appearances of the tournament – all but backup goalkeepers Nick Rimando and William Yarbrough appeared in the group stage – in front of a sell-out crowd of 18,467 on a hot and humid night at Sporting Park.
Panama, in desperate need of a result to move on to the quarterfinals, came out with a heightened sense of urgency and nearly made their early pressure count in the 10th minute when Luis Tejada poked Erick Davis’ set-piece past Guzan, only for the offside flag to correctly cut the celebrations short.
Guzan could do nothing about Perez’s opener in the 34th minute, though, a tap-in that gave the FC Dallas forward his 11th Gold Cup goal, good for second on the all-time list behind Landon Donovan (18). With the US struggling to clear their lines, Perez’s flick found Tejada in behind, and Ventura Alvarado couldn’t keep the strike partners from hooking up on a low cross that only needed a touch.
Spurred on by their first deficit at home since a 2013 Gold Cup matchup vs. Cuba, the US felt hard done by in the 41st minute when Bedoya was felled from behind by Harold Cummings as he sprinted toward goal. Referee Roberto Garcia waved play on, but replays showed there was contact, albeit just outside the 18-yard box.
That gambit paid off after just 10 minutes, with Dempsey setting up Bedoya to feed Bradley on the doorstep for a simple finish that evened the score at 1-1. It was the first US goal by anyone other than Dempsey in this tournament and Bradley’s second-ever in the Gold Cup, the first coming in the 2011 final.
Though both sides pushed for an equalizer, neither succeed in breaking the deadlock, meaning Panama will anxiously await results in Group B and C to determine whether their tournament will continue, while the US scout the final group stage matches and rest their legs ahead of Saturday.
John Anthony Brooks will miss the US’ quarterfinal match because of yellow-card accumulation, earning a suspension by picking up a caution in the 16th minute. Teams have the option of replacing players on the group stage roster with those on the 30-man provisional roster ahead of the knockout round.