Panamanian substitute sends the U.S. back to reality

Group A: The United States lose to Panama in nail biting 1-0 defeat.

By Jorge Belon, Managing Editor 

Panama 1-0 victory over the U.S. on Sunday at Independence Park at Kingston, Jamaica sent the Central Americans to first place of group A and sent the heavy favorite Americans to fifth.

“We should be happy over this victory,” substitute Panamanian forward Carlos Small told CONCACAF. “All of Panama should celebrate this victory.”

The Canaleros goal came in the 78th minute of the match, after the U.S. appeared to break through. Small received a pass inside the penalty box. With two American defenders on him, goalie Zackary Steffen closed his angle, controlled the ball and blasted a low-bouncing shot into the net to give Panama the 1-0 lead.

Though this was not a match that the Panamanians dominated entirely, it was equal in that both teams put pressure on each other’s defense. The U.S. and Panama combined for 18 shots in the match. The defenses were busy, but for the most part both teams held their ground.

The U.S. offense would move the ball around well, but the Yanks froze when they entered the final third.  Two games in a row now the Americans have failed to complete that final pass that would set up a goal-scoring chance. Instead the Yanks settled for long range shots or a turnover that would lead to a Panamanian counter.

The American goalie prevented the Canaleros from taking the lead plenty of times. His best save was when he was forced to stop the ball with his dragging foot in the 34th minute of the first half.

The second half started scoreless. The American defense that looked solid in the first half began to show holes in their armor. Panama took five of their eight shots, and they got all six of their corner kicks in the final 45 minutes.

As for the Americans their offensive frustration continued, and there was no better sign than Lynden Gooch miss of an opportunity at the 64th minute.

The Sunderland A.F.C. product ran into the box with the ball and looked out of control, but with some luck he got through two Panamanian defenders and was in prime position to score. But the ball bounced awkwardly on the grass. He was forced to take a back heel shot, but the ball cleared out. Gooch put his hands over his head and looked in disbelief.

A few minutes later Small crushed the Americans’ hopes with his goal. After that goal the confidence of the U.S. disappeared and they could not muster an attack.

“I think our concentration was kind of lost at the end,” American midfielder Paul Arriola told CONCACAF after the game. “We played a great a game but all credits must go to Panama since they played well. We played well too, but unfortunately the ball was not able to go into the net for our side. But we still got three more games to play so we are going to go with everything.”

Now after this defeat the Americans will need to recover and fast, because they must beat Aruba on Wednesday at Independence Park. Or else they could very well kiss the World Cup good bye.

As for Panama they will face Jamaiaca, the host of the tournament, on Wednesday, and a victory against the Reggae Boyz will get them one step closer to qualifying for the World Cup.

Highlights provided by CONCACAF,

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