The United States were the favorites heading into today’s Gold Cup final, but not so much that a Panama win was out of the question. With one of the tournament’s leading scorers (Gaby Torres) and a second established striking talent (Blas Perez), it wasn’t difficult to foresee a scenario where the Canaleros could claim their first Gold Cup. The team had already beaten Mexico twice in the tournament. Was it really so far fetched to think they could upset the United States?
Panama had only allowed three goals in five games. They’d outscored their opponents by eight. It was easy to imagine this Panama team executing a random set piece, earning a dodgy penalty, or otherwise taking a lead and holding on to claim their first confederation title. With the U.S.’s propensity to gift their opponents one golden chance per match, Panama had a path to their first major title.
Unfortunately, Panama never put themselves in position to execute. Setting up deep with two lines of four, Panama played a waiting game. Whether they were waiting for penalty kicks, a U.S. mistake, or a specific point in the match to tweak their approach was unclear. But they never put a shot on Nick Rimando, and with only a few isolated counter attacks to break up the U.S.’s control of play, the Canaleros failed to show how they intended on getting a goal.
They only earned three corner kicks. Other set piece chances were isolated and ineffectual. The possibility of a penalty? You have to get within 18 yards first.
Panama were just too reverential. Against a U.S. side that lacked many of is biggest stars, the Canaleros were as reserved as they were for June’s World Cup Qualifier in Seattle. But whereas that performance was lauded as one of the U.S.’s most impressive of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, today’s seems more like a product of a failed plan. Panama elected to instill an approach that depended on their defense to be perfect, and in the 68th minute, their one imperfection cost them.
No doubt the U.S. deserves credit. The degree to which they can dictate games is a testament to the transformation Klinsmann started two years ago. That they can hold 75 percent of the ball while the game’s in doubt means teams that don’t come after them are unlikely to see many chances on goal.
But Panama should have known that. Panama should not have reconciled themselves to being sitting ducks. With a confederation title in reach and a mistake-prone U.S. defense in front of them, the Canaleros should have done more to seize their chance. Instead, they fell victim to their own approach.