The United States, holders and hosts of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup, managed to outlast Panama on Saturday in Philadelphia, a penalty kick in extra time from Kenny Cooper sealing a tense 2-1 victory. The Americans will now take on Honduras, who edged Canada in their quarter-final - also thanks to a spot kick - in the semi-finals on 23 July in Chicago.
The USA started slowly against the Panamanians, looking sluggish in the early exchanges. And the visiting Central Americans, runners-up at the 2005 Gold Cup, took full advantage, going a goal to the good in the dying moments of the first half. Blas Perez capitalised on a clumsy bit of business in the US defence, poking home a deflected ball as the Americans were unable to clear the danger from a corner-kick.
The Americans roared back, though, early in the second period, with dreadlocked holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman scoring his first international goal in only his seventh appearance. After the 90 minutes of regulation finished with no further bulging of the nets, Kenny Cooper sealed a nervy US win from the penalty spot.
Panama defender Roman Torres launched himself recklessly at Cooper as he burst into the penalty area, scything the player down and leaving Mexican referee Benito Archundia no option but to whistle for a spot kick. Up stepped the FC Dallas forward, first hesitating and then slamming his shot in off the inside of the post in the 105th minute.
I think with our speed, which is our strength, we were able to manage the game and pack it off in the back.
In the earlier game in Philadelphia, Honduras booked their place in the semi-finals with a tightly contested 1-0 win over Canada. The Central Americans started out with the keener verve early on and made the necessary breakthrough in the 36th minute. Canada's defensive stalwart Paul Staltieri, trying to block an overhead kick from Walter Martinez, had the ball deflect off his hand. The referee did not hesitate in pointing to the spot.
Martinez stepped right up and rammed the ball up the middle past the diving Greg Sutton, scoring the only goal of the game. "I think with our speed, which is our strength, we were able to manage the game and pack it off in the back," Martinez said after the match. "We were able to get the result we were looking for."
The US, four-time winners of the CONCACAF showpiece, will take on Honduras in the last four on Thursday at Chicago's Soldier Field. Sunday's quarter-finals, pitting Mexico against Haiti and Costa Rica against Guadeloupe, will send the final two teams to the tournament's semi-final stage.