For the first time in six years, the United States are champions of the CONCACAF region. Panama were excellent defensively on Sunday and made the USMNT fight for the entirety of the match, but the Americans were in control throughout their 1-0 victory.
Stu Holden had the first real chance of the game in the 11th minute, one he created for himself. Holden won the ball back in midfield and took it forward before unleashing a shot from 20 yards, but it blazed over. Sadly, his influence on the game would be short lived. He picked up a knee injury in the 18th minute and had to be subbed off, with Mikkel Diskerud replacing him in the 22nd minute.
The first half didn’t contain many chances for either team. Alejandro Bedoyahad the Americans’ best opportunity to score in the 43rd minute, but failed to make the most of it. He looked to be in on goal and had a chance to shoot with his right foot, but decided to cut inside on his left and look for a better shot. He never found it, and his effort was blocked by a Panamanian defender.
While the game was certainly played in the frenetic and physical style Panama sought in the first half, they were unable to take advantage of the times that they frustrated the U.S. and forced turnovers in midfield, with the United States regularly winning the ball right back.
The United States came out with a bit more initiative in the second half and were denied what probably should have been a penalty in the 52nd minute. A cross by Landon Donovan was knocked down by the hand of the Carlos Rodriguez, but referee Joel Aguilar didn’t spot it, much to the dismay of an absolutely livid Jurgen Klinsmann.
In the 68th minute, Brek Shea was introduced in place of Joe Corona and only needed a minute before he netted the United States’ game-winning goal. Bedoya set it up with a cross from the right flank towards the six-yard box, which Donovan met. Not in a terrific spot to shoot, Donovan helped the ball towards the center of the box where Shea was waiting to poke it home from point blank range.
Eddie Johnson had a brilliant chance to put the game away for the United States in the 83rd minute, but failed to capitalize on what should have been a tap-in. Shea provided a perfect low cross towards the back post, where Johnson had made an excellent run, but the American striker inexplicably screwed his shot over the bar.
With Panama throwing everyone forward in a desperate attempt to find an equalizer, Martin Vasquez put on Omar Gonzalez for Bedoya in the dying minutes of the match. His substitution worked, with the U.S. defense making a few important headed clearances in stoppage time to close out the win for their team.
By Kevin McCauley