The USA will take on Panama in its second group match of the 2011 Gold Cup with getting to six points as the goal.
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TAMPA - Getting to six points. That will be the goal for both the United States and Panama as the two sides prepare to meet in the second match of group play Saturday in Tampa.
"It's one of those games when you can kind of put yourself through if you win and get six points," U.S. striker Jozy Altidore said of the match after the USA topped Canada 2-0 on Tuesday. "We'll see how it goes. We have to assess the team and see how everyone is, get everyone healthy and try to get three point."
For both teams the opening match of the group stage provided some moments of glory, and some moments of worry.
The U.S. dominated Canada for long stretches, but at the end of the night Canada had chances to make a game of it had it not been for a couple of heroic saves made by Tim Howard to hold a clean sheet. For Panama, what looked like a walk in the park against Guadeloupe turned into a barn burner as the CONCACAF minnows stormed back from three goals down, narrowly missing out on earning a draw late on.
Altidore, who had been in a long slump that last through last year's World Cup, scored the United States' first goal and assisted Clint Dempsey's in the second half.
"When we were able to get the second goal, I didn’t think we did a good job of finishing the game out," U.S. manager Bob Bradley said before adding that the USA would have to improve as it moves forward through the tournament.
The improvement for the USA needs to come on both ends of the pitch. Despite scoring two goals and holding a clean sheet, Bradley's side lacked conviction in the final third and failed to create as many solid chances as its possession warranted. On the defensive end, momentary lapses in concentration could have been costly against Canada.
Tim Howard made some spectacular saves against Canada.
Bradley's squad might not get so lucky in its second game. Panama's strikers have proven that they won't let those chances slip past them the way Canada did.
What the USA did well against Canada was force the play early, and team captain Carlos Bocanegra says that will be key once again against Panama while stressing that his team would have to be better in the way it pushed the pace.
“We need to be a little bit better possessing the ball moving forward so we don’t lose the ball cheaply and get countered," he said. "We have to come out with the same energy and put them on their heels like we did to Canada."
Putting Panama on its heels could prove a tricky proposition. Like the USA, Panama seemed to relax after taking what seemed to be a commanding lead. But prior to the letdown, Panama looked like a carbon copy of the team that took the USA to penalties in the final of the 2005 Gold Cup. Strong, athletic, and featuring Blaz Perez as the goal-poaching forward, Panama is one of the few teams in CONCACAF that can match the United States physically, though the technical ability of the U.S. has proven to be too much for the Panamanians historically.
The USA has been dominant all-time against Panama holding a record of six wins and two draws with no losses. If that trend continues, the USA will be comfortably into the final eight as it heads to the third match of the group stage.