KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Canada's offense finally came to life, reviving their hopes of making the semifinal round of Olympic qualifying after a disappointing start to the CONCACAF Under-23 tournament.
Michael Petrasso had a goal and an assist, and Skylar Thomas and Ben Fisk also scored to lift the Canadians to a 3-1 victory over shorthanded Panama on Saturday and put them back in contention for a top-two finish in Group A.
Canada, now on three points, will close out group play on Tuesday against Cuba – who lost a fifth player to defection ahead of Saturday's late game against the United States – in Commerce City, Colo.
Panama, winless and on one point after two matches – and still to face the Americans in their group finale, also on Tuesday – have yet to finish with 11 men in the tournament. This time, they had to play a man down for nearly an hour, after forward Carlos Small was given a straight red card in the 32nd minute for an off-the-ball incident.
Canada, who struggled to generate offense in their opening 3-1 loss to the United States on Thursday, came out more aggressively against a Panamanian side which still hadn't found the defensive form it lacked in Thursday's 1-1 draw with Cuba.
The Canadians and nearly saw it pay off in the fourth minute, only to be denied by 'keeper Elieser Howell, who got down to stop Caleb Clarke's shot and then smothered Petrasso's putback attempt on the rebound.
Petrasso would not be denied at the half-hour mark, though, powering into the penalty area and driving a shot past Howell for his second goal of the tournament and a 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, Small was set off after putting a hand in Anthony Jackson-Hamel's face during a confrontation in Canada's half of the field. Two minutes after that, following a corner kick, Thomas' second-chance header pinballed off the right post, rolled down the line to the left post, and deflected in to put the Canadians up 2-0.
Panama would not go away despite playing with only 10 men, and pulled within 2-1 in the 61st minute. Miguel Arroyo sent in a cross from the right flank, and Edgar Barcenas raced in to bury it from the top of the six-yard box.
Jorman Aguilar celebrated after driving an apparent equalizer into the roof of the net in the 68th minute, but the offside flag was up on the play.
Canada coach Benito Floro subbed in Vancouver's Jackson Farmer at left back for Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare after that sequence, and Fisk tacked on an insurance goal in the 73rd when he finished off Petrasso's pass from short range.
Panama threatened to make things interesting again in the 87th minute, but Michael Murillo's blast from the right side of the 6 smacked off the crossbar. Montreal's Maxime Crepeau kept the margin at two goals in second-half stoppage time with a double save on Aguilar and Barcenas.
Steve Brisendine covers soccer in Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.