Sunday, June 17, 2007

U.S. battle Panama for 2-1 victory; Advance to Gold Cup final four

Almost one year ago to the date, Gillette Stadium welcomed U.S. supporters to view the U.S.-Italy World Cup match live on the large screens within the stadium. On Saturday afternoon, the stadium played host once again to US supporters, this time with their team in significantly closer proximity, as the Americans battled Panama to a 2-1 victory in the Gold Cup Quarterfinal round.

Almost immediately the Americans set the offensive tone when, in the 2nd minute, the U.S. penetrated the Panamanian box as Landon Donovan split a vulnerable Panama defender before he mailed a dangerous shot on Panama keeper Jaime Penedo.

An early scare occurred in the form of Man on Fire DaMarcus Beasley injured himself in the 6th minute. Although grounded for a few anxious minutes, the gritty midfielder returned to his feet soon after, surely allowing Sam’s Army to breathe a sigh of relief.

Soon after said scare, Taylor Twellman raced into the box in the 9th minute and launched a left-footed shot that just missed the goal by inches.

After a Panamanian corner kick in the 18th minute, the Bradley’s boys quickly counterattacked when Donovan raced down the heart of the pitch leaving one defender in his wake and took an acute-angled shot on goal that was batted away by Penedo.

Things got ugly in the wake of the ensuing corner kick, when Peneda appeared to have a launched a back-of-the-neck pulldown of a defenseless Twellman. What should have warranted at very least, a yellow, went uncarded, and the match was gradually turned into a rather fisticuff-filled match halfway through the first half.

Minutes later, in the 26th, Donovan airmailed a corner that Twellman headed toward goal for what would have been the first goal of the match had the crossbar not gotten in the way, of course. Four minutes later, Dempsey decided to try and get in on the offensive display when he slid into a shot that skipped into the clutches of a diving Peneda in the 30th minute.

Undeterred, Panama found its first scoring opportunity a minute later when Blas Perez snuck into the box before three U.S. defenders and directed a tantalizing shot that went mere feet wide of the U.S. goal in the 31st minute.

In a bout of incredibly comical luck, Twellman escaped his mark, turned, and launched a brilliant shot that was inadvertently blocked by his former Rev teammate Dempsey in the 38th minute.

As the second half commenced, the U.S. kicked off hoping to spark an offensive series that would produce a goal. The halftime stat sheet showed that while the Panamanians had the advantage on total possession (52%), the Americans acquired more quality chances (three shots on goal to one for Panama).

In the 48th, Perez raced down the pitch on a jailhouse break that gave Howard his first true test of the match when marched right up to his doorstep like a menacing girl scout before firing a hard shot on Howard. The Everton keeper passed the test with flying colors, and denied Perez the back of the net.

A critical moment occurred in the 57th minute; Donovan was haphazardly tackled after he crashed the box, leading to a penalty kick. Donovan accordingly stepped up and skipped in career Gold Cup goal number ten (most in US Men’s National Team history), which cued the flying streamers from the Sam’s Army contingent behind the Panama net.

Less than five minutes later in the 62nd, Carlos Bocanegra headed a spectacular right flank free kick engineered by DaMarcus Beasley for pay dirt, giving the Americans the 2-0 lead midway through the second half. An ominous sign hanging from the Fort (yes, it’s still the Fort even during non-Revolution events) implored “Release the Hounds,” and said hounds had been effectively uncaged during this sweet five-minute sequence.

More trouble ensued in the 76th minute when Manuel Torres hard tackled Clint Dempsey in what was a sure-fire card eliciting offense. Torres attempted to plead his case, with teammates offering expert witness testimony. But it was all in vain as referee Neil Brizan issued Torres his second yellow card of the match, and the subsequent red card ejection, which left his teammates in the unfortunate predicament of having to make up a two-goal difference a man down with fifteen minutes left in the match.

Despite the one-man disadvantage, Panama attacked like bats out of hell in the 84th minute, when Perez escaped three hapless American defenders and rolled into the middle of the box before firing a hard shot into bottom corner of the U.S. goal, cutting the U.S. margin in half, 2-1.

With four minutes of stoppage time added, Panama had its work cut out if it were to acquire the equalizer one man down. They hurried to reassemble the attack, but failed to find the back of the net, giving the U.S. the all-important quarter final victory in front of the Foxboro faithful.

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