United States vs. Panama: Complete Gold Cup Final Preview, Key Battles, Lineups

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United States vs. Panama: Complete Gold Cup Final Preview, Key Battles, Lineups
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

CONCACAF Gold Cup Final

United States vs. Panama

Sunday, July 28, 4 p.m. ET at Soldier Field in Chicago

The final of the 2013 Gold Cup will take place on Sunday as the United States and Panama will square off.

For the hosts, it is a chance to pick up a fifth title in their history, while Panama have reached the final for only the second time in their history—they were runners-up in 2005 and are bidding for a first-ever Gold Cup championship.

United States are looking to put an end to their two-game losing streak in Gold Cup finals, though they face different opposition this time around after Mexico, the winners of the past two Gold Cups and three of the last five, were eliminated by Panama in the semifinals.

However, this is the U.S.'s fifth straight final appearance in the tournament.

These two nations will not only vie for the continental title but also, on an individual level, for the chance for one of their players to win the top scorer award. Panama's Gabriel Torres and U.S. duo Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski have scored five goals apiece so far; only once since 1993 has the competition's top scorer managed more than that tally—Javier Hernandez of Mexico hit seven goals in 2011's tournament.

 

How they reached the final

Panama topped Group A after winning twice and drawing once in their three matches.

A 2-1 win against Mexico in their first game set them on their way, with a 1-0 win against Martinique in the second fixture enough to guarantee early qualification. They sealed the top spot with a 0-0 draw with Canada in the final group-stage match.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In the quarterfinals, Panama drew Cuba, which had finished as one of the two best third-place finishers in the group stage. Cuba provided no opposition, with Panama routing them 6-1—four of those goals coming after Cuba's Ariel Martinez was sent off.

Mexico beat Trinidad and Tobago in the quarterfinals, meaning the Group A rivals met up again in the semis.

Once more, it was Panama who triumphed, with captain Roman Torres scoring the decisive goal in a 2-1 win.

The United States strolled through Group C, smashing in 11 goals in their three fixtures, winning 6-1 and 4-1 against Belize and Cuba respectively. Wondolowski scored a hat trick in the first game and a brace in the second.

Brek Shea was the hero of the third and final group game, scoring the only goal of the match with eight minutes left on the clock to defeat Costa Rica 1-0 and secure the top spot ahead of the same opposition.

The U.S. swept aside El Salvador 5-1 in the quarterfinals before defeating Honduras 3-1 in the semifinals. Landon Donovan scored twice in the latter match.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

However, the United States suffered a blow as manager Jurgen Klinsmann was sent off by the referee with only three minutes left in the semifinal; he has yet to hear if he will be suspended or have to serve a touchline ban for the final, per Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated:

 

Key battles

Of course, the big battles will come between the top-scoring strikers and the defenders. Can Panama contain two free-scoring strikers? Will Gabriel Torres have the quality to breach the U.S. back line and record his sixth goal of the tournament?

Stuart Holden against Gabriel Gomez should provide a good duel in midfield, while the matchup down the United States' left flank of Jose Torres vs. Marcos Sanchez will also provide plenty of industry as well as quality on the ball.

 

Predicted lineups

United States: Rimando, Parkhurst, Goodson, Besler, Beasley, Holden, Beckerman, Corona, J. Torres, Donovan, Wondolowski.

Panama: Penedo, Chen, Parris, R. Torres, Rodriguez, Gomez, Godoy, Sanchez, Quintero, G. Torres, Perez.

 

Predicted outcome

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Panama have shown great improvement over the past couple of years to challenge for World Cup qualification in the Hexagonal and now to reach their second-ever Gold Cup final, but the United States will prove too strong for them once again.

It can be argued that this U.S. side have not really had a true test during the competition thus far, with only Costa Rica coming close to causing an upset. The U.S. and Panama played each other less than a month ago, with the Yanks proving their superior level with a 2-0 win. 

This isn't exactly the same U.S. team as then, but the eventual outcome will be the same—a United States win.

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