The first day of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup is in the books after two matches in Frisco, Texas.
In Tuesday's opening match, minnow Haiti held Panama to a 1-1 draw. Later, the United States built a lead before holding on for a 2-1 victory over Honduras.
Here are the key takeaways from Day 1 at the Gold Cup.
Panama-Haiti draw delivers control of Group A to USA
The tournament's first match produced the first surprise as lightly regarded Haiti (currently ranked 76th in the world by FIFA) earned a draw with 2013 Gold Cup runner-up Panama.
Panama entered the tournament as something of a dark horse following that second-place finish two years ago. Ahead of kickoff, CONCACAF.com noted the following:
They should be flush with confidence following a third-place finish at the 2014 Central American Cup. In a clear statement of intent, Panama defeated World Cup quarterfinalists, Costa Rica (2-1) on March 31.
Tejada – the 2005 Gold Cup MVP – is the leading scorer in the national team’s history, while Perez – a member of the 2007 Gold Cup “Best XI” – has scored at least one goal in four straight Gold Cups and remains a central leadership figure. If both can find their top form in 2015, sky’s the limit for Panama.
Panama might still be full of confidence, but this first impression was not all that positive. Haiti caused the Central Americans all kinds of trouble with its speed, and Panama couldn't break down the Caribbean side's defense until the 56th minute, through Alberto Quintero.
The goal appeared to be enough to give Panama an underwhelming victory, but Haiti drew level through second-half substitute Duckens Nazon in the 78th minute.
Though Haiti will take great pride in the result, the biggest beneficiary might be the U.S. After one match, the Americans control Group A with three points. Haiti—which will play the U.S. next—and Panama are level with one point, and Honduras is last with no points.
With a victory against Haiti on Friday, the U.S. would be all but certain of winning the group.
Americans survive stiff test from Honduras
In what most onlookers expected to be the toughest test for the U.S. in Group A, the Americans scored twice from set pieces to secure a tight 2-1 victory over Honduras in Tuesday's late game.
Clint Dempsey scored both goals for the U.S., with both coming via headers. The former captain opened the scoring in the 25th minute after Honduras failed to completely clear a corner. Jozy Altidore forced Donis Escober into a good save with a shot from the right, but the ball rebounded to Dempsey, who made no mistake from close range.
His second came in the 64th minute from a Michael Bradley free kick. Unmarked at the back post, Dempsey towered in the air and powered his downward header into the net for a 2-0 lead.
It didn't last long. Carlos Discua, who had entered the match as a substitute only moments earlier, streaked past Ventura Alvarado and pulled back a goal for Honduras in the 68th minute. The strike set up a tense finale, but the U.S. did just enough to hold off the Central Americans until full time.
With three points in hand, the U.S. now has a firm grip on Group A—especially after Panama could only draw with Haiti in the early match. But despite winning, the Americans were outplayed for large portions of the game, especially in the first 10 minutes and after Honduras scored its only goal.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann will expect more from his team next time, against Haiti on Friday. But the result and performance are best understood in context.
No, this wasn't a particularly impressive performance by the Americans. But this was probably their toughest match of the group stage. In fact, until the semifinals, when a showdown with Costa Rica likely awaits, the U.S. probably won't face another team as strong as Honduras.
Known for physical football and organized defending, Honduras was always going to represent a difficult challenge for the U.S. The Americans passed that challenge, thanks in large part to their prowess on set pieces. As MLS analyst Matthew Doyle noted, Klinsmann used a similar strategy last year at the FIFA World Cup:
The bottom line is that the U.S. will have to improve. Klinsmann knows it, the players know it and the fans know it. Now we'll wait and see how the team fares the next time out.