HOUSTON — In the knockout stages of a tournament, it’s always about the next game. But in the case of the US national team’s Gold Cup semifinal date with Panama on Wednesday (6 p.m. CT, Fox Soccer), it’s a rare chance to right the wrongs of the first time around.
The US are keen to learn from their mistakes from a stunning 2-1 loss to the Panamanians in the group stage and ensure they don’t drop a second game to the Central American nation in 10 days. The first loss was a surprise, but a second loss would be devastating. The US has had time to reflect on that defeat and Bob Bradley’s team is fully aware of what’s at stake.
“You get to the end of a tournament and every little thing is put to the highest test,” midfielder Michael Bradley said after training at Reliant Stadium on Tuesday. “With the chance to get to the final, we want to step on the field and be committed to putting everything we have out there and have the confidence to play and … get after them.
“I think the main thing we took away from the first game was their discipline defensively,” he added. “We know they’re hard to play against and they’ll sit back a little bit.”
While knowing what to expect is an advantage for the US, there’s also been 10 days for the team to digest and respond mentally to the loss. With a spot in the final against Mexico or Honduras at stake, it’s clear this team feels it’s in a different place.
“I think we’ve grown in form and we’re peaking at the right time,” said Clint Dempsey. “I’m excited about the game and the way we’re playing. If you look at the last game, I think we played some of the best football I can remember with this team as far as the movement and passing.”
While there’s confidence within the US group, no one’s taking Panama lightly. La Marea Roja are an organized and composed squad that can make breaking down their defense difficult.
But for the US, the formula for success is more about what they have to do to advance than it is about their opponents. It’s a formula based on poised passing and confidence both on and off the ball.
“I think we’re going to be better organized and better in possession,” Dempsey said. “I think we’ll be more confident in possession and I think we’ll be able to take the game to them like we did Jamaica. Panama’s a good side — we respect them - but at the same time we have to go out and play our game and be confident we can go out and get a result.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.