CHESTER, Pennsylvania – If the United States and Panama were going to meet in the last game for each in a CONCACAF Gold Cup, most would have expected it to be in the final.
After all, the sides squared off in the 2005 and 2013 tournament deciders with the Americans lifting the trophy on both occasions.
This year, they will play their last match against each other. There is a twist, however, to the anticipated scenario: it will be in the match for third place, which will be contested for the first time since 2003.
For as disappointed as the familiar foes are in not competing for the big prize, the U.S. is taking the encounter very seriously. In fact, the always forward-thinking Jurgen Klinsmann views it as a building block in the effort for the next World Cup in Russia.
“We want to continue our process towards 2018,” said the 50-year-old head coach. “This is year one after the World Cup in Brazil and a year of rebuilding the pieces and brining in young, new players, trying a lot of things out.
“Obviously, we wanted to win this tournament very badly.”
For defender Brad Evans, who played the entire 90 minutes in Wednesday’s 2-1 semifinal loss to Jamaica, the third place match holds multiple meanings.
“Anytime you put on this jersey, not matter what game it is…if it’s a friendly, if you’re playing 5v5 in practice, you got to put the effort.,” the Seattle Sounders standout commented. “The last result wasn’t the result that we wanted, but it was the best we had played all tournament.”
Adding more intrigue to the pairing is the fact that Panama’s last outing in each of the previous five Gold Cups has been against the five-time champion. On each occasion, the Canaleros came up short, losing four times, while drawing 0-0 in the 2005 final only to fall ultimately on penalty kicks.
“Anytime you put on the badge and you put on the jersey, it’s a game, it’s a real game,” expressed Evans. “We’re also playing what’s become a rival now in Panama. It’s constantly been a tough game and these guys are going to be hungry.
“We’ve got to be aware. We’ve got to be conscious about our efforts. Reality is it’s a game.”
There is another significant aspect at stake for many of the U.S. players – their national team futures. With youngsters such as Rubio Rubin, Emerson Hyndman and Matt Miazga knocking on the senior door, an infusion of new blood is a distinct possibility.
“For some of us at the end of the Gold Cup, is this the last run for some guys? Is it not,” quizzed Evans. “That’s the thought process in people’s minds, so that’s the reality of it.”
And, maybe, the dawning of a new era as well.