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Panama aims to end American hex
by Ridge Mahoney, June 15th, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  gold cup, men's national team


Twice in the recent past Panama has stretched the United States nearly to the breaking point. Saturday at Gillette Stadium (4 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Univision) Panama will get a chance to finally snap the American hex against it.

The U.S. is 4-0-2 against Panama and has won the last four games by shutout. Yet there have been a few close calls.

A 2004 World Cup qualifier in Panama City went two minutes into stoppage time before the USA scored a desperation equalizer through Cobi Jones to tie, 1-1. The next year, Kasey Keller pulled off an amazing triple save with the Americans leading, 2-0, to thwart a Panamanian rally in what became a 3-0 win.

Nobody scored when the nations met in the Gold Cup final six weeks later, with Keller's saves during regular play keeping the USA alive until it could prevail, 3-1, on penalties, following the 0-0 tie through regulation and overtime.

Bob Bradley says the Panamanian team is "dangerous." Mexico found that out Wednesday in the final day of group play, and only squeezed out a crucial victory by a 1-0 score to drop Panama into third place in Group C. Panama hammered Honduras, 3-2, and missed a last-second penalty in a 1-1 draw with Cuba prior to playing Mexico.

For the quarterfinal, Panama will be without Gabriel Gomez, who received his second yellow card of the group round in the 1-0 loss to Mexico, and Rolando Escobar and Roman Torres, who were sent off in a tempestuous second half.

The Americans swept through Group B with three straight wins while scoring seven goals and conceding none. U.S. coach Bob Bradley has all of his 23 players available and should the U.S. win, it won't play again until it faces the winner of the Guatemala-Canada quarterfinal next Thursday at Chicago's Soldier Field.

Panama may be outmanned by the USA, but it speed and relentless commitment are not to be underestimated. And as shown by the many meetings between the countries in the past three years, Panama has experience as well as skill and talent in Felipe Baloy, Jose Luis Garces, Blas Perez, Ricardo Phillips, and Carlos Rivera. The U.S. firepower should prevail but its shutout streak might be snapped, as Panama has shown in this tournament it can punish defensive mistakes.


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