Freddy Adu's heads up play found Landon Donovan steaming on the right and in a flash the LA Galaxy man positioned himself to lay a perfectly delivered low cross which found who else but Clint Dempsey. Goal. This was the USA at its best 0-60 counterattacking best. It took but a moment but it changed a match desperately in need of an adrenaline rush.
Dempsey pointed to Donovan as he should. The credit is his for that inch perfect pass but lets face it he was doing what he does best. The real hero in this case was Adu coming back after two years, the forgotten man in US football, drifting from one club to another. Each one less promising than the last one. He's now 22 years and aeons have passed since he was that starry eyed kid with big dreams. Bob Bradley gave him his chance and he took it with both hands. Initiating the breakaway he took one hell of a gutsy swing of the leg and an article of faith to find Donovan.
Bradley went with the same line up against Jamaica sitting down Donovan and starting Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kjlestan. With an hamstring injury ruling out Altidore for weeks, Bradley turned to Juan Agudelo. What worked in that match did not quite pan out here. The Panamanian defense is a hundred times better. They kept their shape and contested every long ball and 50-50. The first half was a cagey affair with few good chances both falling to Agudelo, the second one a header clanging fortuitously off the upright for the Panamanians after Jaime Pinedo was beaten.
The second half brought Donovan to the pitch but there was no change in the tempo as the defense pinned him down and cut off the passing lanes. One also forgets the number of times the Panamanians got their heads onto the ball to steer away a long ball or set piece. Meanwhile their attack was getting into gear as Luis Tejada finally got some help from Amilcar Henriquez and Armando Cooper. The latter had Panama's best chance as he flashed a shot from an angle with Tim Howard making a finger tip save.
The match was ominously heading to a stalemate with every passing scoreless minute favouring La Marea Roja. With Bradley looking increasingly pinched in the nose the stage was set for a roll of dice. Out came Agudelo and in trotted Adu. Dempsey was set up as the lone striker having thrived in that position repeatedly. Ten minutes later the match changed irrevocably. Adu found himself and at 22 years he still has time left to make good on all that promise.
The US are in the finals for the eighth time and now await Mexico or Honduras who are waging a grim war at Reliant Stadium in the second semi-finals.