[USA-PANAMA]Beat Mexico once, and call it a fluke. Beat Mexico twice, and you're the real deal. Panama's success at the 2013 Gold Cup, which includes an historic pair of 2-1 wins over Mexico, should come as no surprise. The Canaleros also reached the knockout stage of the previous four Gold Cups (losing to the USA each time) and they were the only Hexagonal team that entered close to its first team at this year's Gold Cup.
Panama became the first Concacaf team to beat Mexico twice in the same year in the same competition with its wins over El Tri.
In Wednesday's game against Mexico at Cowboys Stadium, eight of the 11 starters played against the USA when they met June 11 in World Cup qualifying in Seattle, and FC Dallas striker Blas Perez would have started against the USA but he had taken sick during Panama's previous game against Mexico and did not travel to Seattle.
The other two starters against Mexico -- Seattle Sounders target Roberto Chen and former Philadelphia Union midfielder Gabriel Gomez -- were both on the bench against the USA.
The two key players whom the Canaleros did not bring to the Gold Cup are defender Felipe Baloy, their captain, and forward Luis Tejada, who are both in Mexico for the start of the new league season.
Panama poses challenges for the USA on several fronts:
-- The coaching staff headed by former Panamanian greats Julio Cesar Dely Valdes and Jorge Dely Valdes is arguably the best in the region at getting the most out of its players.
Except for the Costa Rica, the USA has broken down opposing defenses almost at will, creating dozens of chances. It won't be so easy against the Canaleros, who are tough to break down defensively.
Panama won't likely repeat the mistake it made in Seattle when it gave the USA too much respect, allowing the U.S. midfield plenty of time on the ball. In goal, it has veteran Jaime Penedo, a holdover from the 2005 team that lost to the USA in a shootout in the final.
The final could be a test of the USA's patience, something it did not need to worry about in its two previous knockout matches when it opened up quick 2-0 leads against both El Salvador and Honduras.
-- The biggest area of improvement at this year's Gold Cup has been Panama's ability to create chances for itself. It already has scored 11 goals in five games, four more goals than the previous high in its four prior runs into the knockout phase.
On the outside, Alberto Quintero caused Mexico fits in both games. Gabriel Torres is tied with Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski for most goals at the Gold Cup with five, while Perez had two goals in the quarterfinal win over Cuba and the first goal against Mexico in the semifinals.
-- The Canaleros are playing with confidence, again a tribute to the Dely Valdes brothers. No other team besides the USA has shown the positive body language throughout the Gold Cup like Panama has.