Friday, July 17, 2009

ATH: Scouting v Panama

From the US National Team Players Association

Scouting Report: Panama

By Graig Carbino -- Panama enters their Gold Cup quarterfinal match up with the United States on somewhat of a high. After a disappointing 2-1 reverse in game one against Guadeloupe, Los Canaleros were able to right the ship and get things going with a controversial and hotly contested 1-all draw with regional powerhouse Mexico.

That result gave meaning to group game three against Nicaragua, a match that saw a somewhat undermanned Panama side ease to a relatively comfortable victory over their Central American counterparts. That win granted Panama a spot in the knockout rounds as one of the two best third-place group finishers and a meeting with the United States on Saturday in Philadelphia.

These two squads are no strangers to one another in Gold Cup play. They met in the 2005 final with the United States eventually taking the title 3-1 on penalty kicks. In 2007 it was the quarterfinals, with Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra scoring in a 2-1 win. Those two players, along with most of the US regulars, will not be at Bob Bradley’s disposal this weekend.

Looking forward to Saturdays encounter in the City of Brotherly Love, Panama should be able to field what coach Gary Stempel considers his first choice starting lineup. Defender Armando Gun and attacking threat Ricardo Phillips were both sent off against Mexico and missed Panama’s last match with Nicaragua. Those players should return to the lineup along with team captain and defensive stalwart Felipe Baloy - out for the last match because of yellow card accumulation.

Baloy, Gun, and the rest of the Panamanian defense will have to be at the top of their games to keep out a United States attack that has scored eight times through three Gold Cup matches.

The US attacking threat will be diminished somewhat by the loss of Charlie Davies and Freddy Adu who have returned to their club teams in Europe for preseason training. Without these two more experienced youngsters Bradley, will turn to tournament standout Stuart Holden (2 goals) to provide the offensive punch to push past Panama.

World Cup veteran Brian Ching (1 goal) is also a good bet to see the field, possibly pairing with Kansas City Wizards forward Davy Arnaud (1 goal) or DC United attacker Santino Quaranta (1 goal).

Mexico-based forward Blas Perez should lead the Panamanian offense after his two-goal performance in the tournament thus far. Perez spent the 2009 Clausura with Pachuca registering nine goals in seventeen appearances.

Short-lived Real Salt Lake striker Luis Tejada will also look to threaten the US backline having scored two goals against Nicaragua. Tejada will be pushing for a chance from the opening whistle having made two substitute appearances thus far. Nelson Barahona and Gabriel Enrique Gomez have also tallied in the tournament for Panama who sit just behind the US on goals scored with six up to this point.

Panama is a team that has certainly given the United States a bit of trouble in the past without being able to actually get a result. They come into the contest on Saturday with a fairly settled team and will look to reverse recent history..

Discounting the inspiration that comes along with the United States' last two Gold Cup victories over Panama would seem shortsighted. As manager Stempel said, “Two previous losses to the United States is somewhat of a motivation for us to change the result.”

Panama also clearly will not be facing the same sort of US team they were up against the previous two tournaments. This is an MLS/less experienced US roster that got even smaller this week as the aforementioned Adu and Davies were joined by defenders Steve Cherundolo and Michael Parkhurst on jets back to Europe. Bradley will need to rely on a mix of a few veterans and many younger, untested players to get the job done on Saturday.

Full complement of first team players or not, international tournaments matter. A positive result for Panama against the United States this weekend would be a huge mile marker for the ‘Red Tide’ to finally cross.

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