After Gold Cup, Panama gauges WCQ prospects

Action from the CONCACAF Gold Cup match for third place between Panama (red jersey) and the USA on July 25, 2015, in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mexsport)

CHESTER, Pennsylvania – Third-place matches might not be considered valuable to some.

For Panama, prevailing in one may prove a beneficial tool in setting an advantageous qualifying course for the next FIFA World Cup.

The Canaleros overcame the United States 3-2 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 draw in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup match for third place.

After a disappointing 2-1 extra-time loss to Mexico in the semifinals, Panama emerged from Saturday’s encounter at PPL Park in much better spirits.

"This is a good Gold Cup, a well-played, good cup for Panama, achieved in a lot of style and capacity," Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez said. "We did some things real well. The important thing is getting ready for World Cup qualifying and going in on a high note."

After Panama just missed on a playoff spot for a 2014 FIFA World Cup berth, Gomez's top priority is reaching Russia 2018.

"I would trade this championship, I would trade this Gold Cup for a chance to go to the World Cup," he expressed. "It was important to re-establishing the direction of the team."

For the most part, Gomez liked what he saw from a team drew five times (all of them 1-1) and suffered a narrow defeat in six outings.

"I have been with the group for a year and I think we are playing pretty good football," remarked the Colombian. "We have had trouble putting the ball into the net. We can't keep having these 1-1 games. We need to improve putting the ball into the net."

In the third-place match, goalkeeper Luis Mejia, who played in place of the suspended Jaime Penedo, acquitted himself well. He saved penalty-kick attempts by Michael Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley in the tiebreaker.

"Mejia gave us plenty of calmness, plenty of tranquility," Gomez noted. "We believe in him. We think he is a good player."

Gomez, however, was non-committal as to who will replace the still-suspended Penedo for the first qualifier in November. The Central American side was drawn into a very difficult fourth-round group along with Costa Rica, as well as the winners of Haiti-Grenada and Jamaica-Nicaragua. The top two teams will reach the hexagonal.

"We have a real hard group, too hard," concluded Gomez. "We have a lot of things we have to work on. It's going to be complicated. We're going to go through some hard times in World Cup qualifying."