The final is set, and the United States will face upstarts Panama for a right to earn the 2013 Gold Cup title. While the United States was always expected to advance to this game, Panama surprised some folks by beating Mexico for a second time at this tournament, 2-1 on Wednesday night.
But which players will be key in this game? Which players have to step up for their side to win? Who should you be paying close attention to in the final?
Let's break it down.
Landon Donovan, United States
Nobody has been better at this tournament than Donovan. In five games, he's notched five goals and a remarkable seven assists, and he has virtually assured himself a return to the starting 11 for the United States at next year's World Cup.
The United States has cruised to five wins, in a large part because Donovan is playing some of his best football right now. It's hard to see how Panama will slow the talismanic United States attacker.
Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres, Panama
Blaz Perez is Panama's most dangerous attacker and has proved it thus far at the Gold Cup, with three goals and an assist in four appearances. He's dangerous on set pieces and should be able to exploit the one weakness the United States has shown in this tournament: the team's back line.
Meanwhile, Gabriel Torres has scored five goals and forms arguably the most dangerous attack in this tournament with Perez (though Chris Wondolowski and Donovan might have something to say about that).
Remember, the United States has managed just one clean sheet in this tournament and allowed four goals in total. Perez and Torres could end up having a very big impact in this contest.
Stuart Holden, United States
The long journey back from a series of injuries for Stuart Holden continues, and he's become an important member of this Gold Cup squad, starting three games and coming on as a substitute for another, with one goal.
Holden acts as the Michael Bradley of this current United States squad, with his smart passing, diagonal lobs over the top of the defense and dangerous runs providing the team with a playmaker in the middle of the pitch.
Donovan and Wondolowski have been stealing the headlines, but Holden's return has been one of the most promising stories of this tournament. If he can continue his strong play in the final, he'll put himself in an excellent position to make the World Cup squad next summer.
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