CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — Music and shouts of celebration blasted from the Panama locker room next door as U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann tried to put another positive spin on another loss.
Backup goalkeeper Luis Mejia saved two penalty kicks in the shootout, and an inspired Panamanian team ended a trying week with a medal, beating the Americans in the CONCACAF Gold Cup third-place game Saturday. Panama won the shootout 3-2 after extra time ended with the score 1-1.
Mejia saved DaMarcus Beasley’s shot in the fifth round in what might have been the veteran defender’s last game for the national team.
In Wednesday’s semifinals, Panama was on the verge of beating Mexico despite being down to 10 men — until a disputed hand ball was called in the area. Mexico converted the penalty kick in stoppage time then scored on another penalty kick in extra time for the 2-1 win.
The Panamanian federation’s president later alleged the match was fixed, and players were seen arriving at PPL Park on Saturday wearing T-shirts that read, “Dignity isn’t bought.”
“Give Panama credit, they played better than we did today from top to bottom,” Beasley said. “They definitely deserved to win. They played good football today. We just didn’t bring it.”
That was a problem often in a disappointing Gold Cup for the Americans, who came into the tournament as favorites to repeat as champions after they beat Panama in the 2013 final. But they were stunned by Jamaica in the semis and had their worst Gold Cup finish since losing to Colombia, an invited guest, during a shootout in the 2000 quarterfinals.
After the U.S. squandered a two-goal lead in a 4-2 loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final, Bob Bradley was fired as coach, leading to Klinsmann’s hire. U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said there were no parallels between that situation and this year’s, noting recent exhibition victories over Germany and the Netherlands.
“It’s obviously a disappointment,” Gulati said. “I wouldn’t call it a step back.”
Roberto Nurse scored for Panama in the 55th minute, and Clint Dempsey evened the game in the 70th with his tournament-high seventh goal.
With the shootout tied 2-2 in the fourth round, Mejia saved captain Michael Bradley’s shot. Harold Cummings then beat Brad Guzan inside the left post to put the pressure on Beasley to keep the U.S. alive. It was the Americans’ first shootout since they beat Panama in the 2005 Gold Cup final.
“This is going to hurt for a while for me,” said the 33-year-old Beasley, who had announced his retirement from the national team only to agree to play in the Gold Cup.
This time around, he’s not going to make any such proclamations, and he acknowledged Saturday’s ending would be a tough way to go out.
Panama was missing several key players because of injury or suspension, including its top goalkeeper. But it dominated play against a sluggish U.S. team, with 13 shots on goal to the Americans’ two.
“We really worked for this game,” coach Hernan Gomez said, “and we faced the world out there with our heads held high.”
On Nurse’s goal, he faked out John Brooks, the young center back who had a rough tournament, to set up an open shot. But in all six of its Gold Cup games, Panama went up 1-0 only to give up the equalizer in the second half and end regulation tied 1-1.
Klinsmann had planned to bring Beasley in during the second half, but the coach was presumably hoping the U.S. would be leading. With the Americans instead trailing and scuffling, Klinsmann used DeAndre Yedlin and Dempsey as subs in the 60th minute, and they combined for the tying goal.
Yedlin’s speed created the chance when he ran onto and chested down a long ball from Bradley. That drew the goalkeeper and two defenders to him, and Yedlin spun around and flicked it to Dempsey, who slid into the ball from 16 yards.
Beasley came on to start extra time.
As the 2013 Gold Cup champ, the U.S. can still reach the 2017 Confederations Cup if it beats the winner of Sunday’s Mexico-Jamaica final in a playoff Oct. 9.
“This team will grow,” Klinsmann insisted. “This team will get better. The youngsters will learn from their mistakes on the field.”
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