CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — Asked what winning the third-place game at the CONCACAF Gold Cup would mean, U.S. captain Michael Bradley paused for a moment, then said softly, “Not much.”
The midfielder quickly added that pride and competitiveness would keep the Americans playing hard against a short-handed Panama squad, a promise repeated often by his teammates and coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Friday. Once the U.S. was stunned by Jamaica in the semifinals, cutting short its bid to repeat as Gold Cup champion, Saturday’s third-place match was left to build momentum and try out different lineups.
In many ways, those are always objectives for Klinsmann as he seeks to develop a squad that can contend against the world’s best. For a coach in his position, the trick is to win enough in the short term to stick around to possibly see through those long-term results.
“We want to continue the process toward 2018,” he said about the next World Cup. “This is Year 1 after the World Cup in Brazil, a year of rebuilding the pieces and bringing in young, new players, trying a lot of things out.”
Klinsmann specifically defended two young players, center backs John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado. The 22-year-olds have been shaky at times in the Gold Cup, and they were unable to prevent Jamaica’s Darren Mattocks from heading in the first goal of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss on a throw-in.
“They have to go through these pains,” Klinsmann said, adding, “We’re going to do a step back here and there.”
He noted Brooks and Alvarado had made for a winning pairing in their brief tenure together before the semifinal defeat, including breakthrough victories in June exhibitions against world champion Germany and the Netherlands, another European power.
“Enormous, enormous talent” is how he described the two.
“We’re going to keep on developing young players, keep looking into the future,” Klinsmann said. “Two, three years down the road — what does this team look like? … You have to keep developing a team that you have in mind toward 2018 that’s hopefully better than you did in Brazil.”
Panama, reeling from the chaotic finish to its semifinal loss to Mexico, will be without five players because of suspension or injury. On the verge of victory Wednesday, the Panamanians, playing with 10 men, were called for a disputed hand ball. Mexico tied the game on the penalty kick and went on to win 2-1 after another penalty in extra time.
Midfielders Valentin Pimentel and Gabriel Gomez and forward Blas Perez are hurt, while forward Luis Tejada and goalkeeper Jaime Penedo were each suspended two games by CONCACAF on Friday. Penedo was disciplined for pushing the assistant referee after Wednesday’s match. Tejada received a red card, then was punished additionally for not leaving the field “in a timely manner.”
Panama’s federation also was fined an undisclosed amount.
In the Panamanians’ latest criticism of CONCACAF, the federation’s president, Pedro Chaluja, told reporters earlier Friday that “we feel that that game was fixed.”
“There are third parties with interests, and we know that it can’t be possible that the best-ranked referee in CONCACAF has such a poor and suspicious performance in a game,” he said.
Coach Hernan Gomez said Chaluja’s reaction was “human nature” but wouldn’t add to the criticism, saying “rules are rules.” CONCACAF confirmed Friday it would review requests from Panama and Costa Rica — which lost to Mexico on a disputed call in the quarterfinals.
Gomez initially said that six players were at risk of missing World Cup qualifiers because of yellow card accumulation, but CONCACAF officials said yellow cards in the Gold Cup wouldn’t affect qualifying.
Panama played some kickball during Friday’s practice, seeking to add a lighthearted note to a trying week.
Klinsmann plans to shake up his lineup against Panama, but didn’t offer any specifics other than to say DaMarcus Beasley would play in the second half. The 33-year-old defender had retired from international soccer only to agree to make himself available for the Gold Cup. Klinsmann added him for the knockout rounds, but Beasley strained a calf in his first practice and has yet to play.
Klinsmann spoke to the squad before Friday’s workout about Beasley’s contributions, and fellow players gave the defender a lengthy ovation. The coach hopes to send Beasley off with a strong performance and a victory, but then again the veteran of a U.S.-record four World Cups isn’t ruling out another return to the national team.
The Americans can still qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup even though they won’t win this tournament. As the 2013 Gold Cup champs, the U.S. will face the winner of Sunday’s title match between Mexico and Jamaica in a playoff Oct. 9 for CONCACAF’s spot in the most important warm-up for the next World Cup.
The United States beat Panama in the 2013 Gold Cup final, one of several stinging losses delivered by the Americans. In qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. scored twice in second-half stoppage time to cost the Panamanians a chance to make it to Brazil.
The teams tied 1-1 in the group stage earlier in this tournament, a game with far more on the line for Panama than the Americans.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.