Juan Agudelo might get another start against Panama
Jozy Altidore underwent an MRI for his strained hamstring to further evaluate his status for tomorrow’s match against Panama. He will remain a game time decision but chances are he will not be cleared. If that is the case then Juan Agudelo should get the nod.
The Red Bulls striker entered the quarterfinals game against Jamaica after Altidore was taken off with his injury and his piercing cross was coolly finished off by Clint Dempsey for the second goal. The consensus: this was Agudelo’s finest performance for the national team in his eight appearances.
The USA have met Panama in the knockout stage three other times and have won each time although La Marea Roja have proved tough to beat. The 2005 Gold Cup finals were decided by penalty shootout while their most recent encounter, the 2009 quarterfinals was decided by Kenny Cooper’s penalty kick.
Bradley’s line changes for Jamaica were necessitated by Landon Donovan’s fatigue brought on by a hectic schedule of matches as well as his cross country journey the night before to attend his sister’s wedding. Alejandro Bedoya and Sasha Kljestan performed exceptionally well with Bedoya especially, a menace on the right with his movement on and off the ball. This time around Donovan will have had over two days to recover and should be ready to start.
The back four has coalesced around Steve Cherundolo having player of the tournament like performances, a solid centre pair in Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson, and Eric Lichaj who does his version of Gareth Bale like gutbusting runs on the left and is equally sound defensively.
After Donovan’s second half arrival against Jamaica Bradley paired up Dempsey with Agudelo and this opened up the attack a lot more. He should go back to it with Dempsey in the slot behind Agudelo in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Bedoya and Donovan in the outside positions. Michael Bradley at the base and Jermaine Jones sitting back in the holding position. Jones will have to avoid silly fouls as he’s already on a yellow and a second one could see him miss the finals.
Panama are without their most dangerous weapon Blas Perez who earned a second booking in the El Salvador match and is therefore out. They still have Luis Tejada who has three goals so far with one of them opening their tally in the USA group game. However Panama’s strength so far has been their defense and their disciplined approach proved difficult to break down for the USA in their first ever loss in the Gold Cp group stage. It is a group of experienced veterans led by Felipe Baloy and they have a tough pair of centre backs in Roman Torres and Alfredo Machado. Bradley after that loss had this to say:
“Panama did a good job defending, and as we’re trying to open them and find spaces, we allow them the first goal. At that point their game plan becomes stronger. We still have the same approach, but the second goal makes it hard. In the second half we put a lot into it. We had some good chances, but nonetheless we weren’t sharp enough in the areas that mattered.”
Finishing has been a problem in this competition (this is in sharp contrast to the efficient displays in the past) with the US squandering a number of chances. Dempsey in particular needs a number of looks to be productive but he’s proved if he’s given that padding he will deliver. The US should find ways to get him the ball and lot of it should be driven from the flanks. Both Dempsey’s goals have come from outside crosses. Motivation should not be a problem – a USA win will get them to their finals holding up their end of the bargain for an anticipated Mexico match up for CONCACAF supremacy.