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U.S. soccer on the ball after early defeat

Wed., June 22, 2011, midnight

Americans get rematch with Panama in Gold Cup

The U.S. national soccer team recently suffered its first Gold Cup loss in group play, is without its top goal scorer in the injured Jozy Altidore, and Landon Donovan, the most prolific scorer in U.S. history, spent most of the last game on the bench.

Yet, the U.S. players insist they’re riding a wave of confidence heading into a tournament semifinal game today with Panama at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Panama beat the U.S. 2-1 in group play.

“We go into this semifinal with more of a positive outlook that we’re moving in the right direction,” said midfielder Clint Dempsey, who scored the second goal in a 2-0 quarterfinal win by the U.S. over Jamaica. “As the tournament’s progressing, we’re starting to get better and better as a team.”

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan went further, comparing the recent U.S. fortunes with the last two World Cup champions, both of whom stumbled in pool play before rolling to win titles.

“We’ve talked about tournament teams who haven’t started the group phase so well,” Kljestan said. “You look at Spain in 2010, Italy in 2006. They got better as the tournament went on. So we’re hoping to keep getting better.”

They must if the U.S. hopes to play Mexico in the Gold Cup final Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Between them, Mexico and the U.S. have won nine of the previous 10 Gold Cups, splitting the last two finals.

But if the U.S. appears to be peaking, unbeaten Mexico, which plays Honduras in the other semifinal game today, may be moving ever so slightly in the other direction, if only because it played at such a high level in the group stage.

Mexico needed two second-half goals to beat a stubborn Guatemalan team in a quarterfinal game and may benefit from some welcome additions to its roster. Mexico has played its last three games with only 17 players after defender Ricardo Osorio returned home ill and five players, including two starters, were suspended for failing a drug test.



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