ALEX KURIAL - Friday, July 12, 2013
Gabriel Torres was the hero again for Panama against Martinique on Thursday, while Mexico rebounded with a strong performance against Canada to stay in the quarterfinals running.
The opening match of the day featured group leaders Panama and Martinique. FC Dallas forward Blas Perez was now available for national duty after missing the team's opening game. Perez was not in the starting lineup however, leaving Portland Timbers forward Frederic Piquionne as the lone MLS man on the field when the game kicked off.
Panama dominated the first half, creating chance after chance only to be foiled by goalie Kevin Olimpa and some timely defense. The Panama defense did its part by holding Martinique shotless going into halftime.
Perez came on in the 65th minute for Cecilio Waterman, and soon after Panama got the break they needed. Defender Jacky Berdix was shown his second yellow in the 73rd minute for running a pick on Torres. This resulted in a red card ejection, putting Martinique down to 10 men. Piquionne departed six minutes later as Martinique desperately looked to hang on for a tie.
Looking as though they might contain the Panama attack, more undisciplined play from Martinique ultimately cost them the game. As Jairo Jimenez prepared to receive a ball in the box, defender Sebastien Cretinoir launched himself into the midfielder, taking both of them to ground. Referee Armando Castro immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
Chosen to take the penalty, Torres stepped up and buried his third goal of the tournament left side past a diving Olimpa. The 85th minute goal finally broke a Martinique defense that had not conceded a goal in 175 minutes of Gold Cup play. Torres left the game two minutes later, and Panama claimed a 1-0 win.
The day's second game from CenturyLink Field in Seattle was between Mexico and Canada, each of whom had lost one goal games in the first round.
With Mexico's entire roster drawn from their domestic Liga MX, it was up to Canada to provide the game's MLS participants. Head coach Colin Miller drew heavily from his Toronto FC contingent, placing defender Doneil Henry and midfielders Kyle Bekker and Jonathan Osorio in the starting lineup.
After trading chances, Mexico would strike first in the 42nd minute. A cross by Luis Montes was deftly flicked on by Jorge Enriquez, finding Raul Jimenez who powered a header into the top right corner from six yards out. Mexico took the 1-0 lead into the half, and would extend it soon after the break.
Early in the second half Marco Fabian looked to have a clear break after darting onto a through ball into the box, only to be tripped up by defender David Edgar. Despite Canadian protest, referee Joel Aguilar handed down a yellow card and penalty kick.
Fabian delivered perfectly on his chance, sending goalie Milan Borjan the wrong way as he buried left side to double Mexico's lead in the 58th minute. It was Fabian's second goal of the tournament after scoring Mexico's lone goal against Panama on Sunday.
Looking for a spark, Canada brought on D.C. United forward Kyle Porter for Issey Nakajima-Farran in the 62nd minute. Bekker made way for Kevin Aleman seven minutes from time, and with the game's result in no doubt.
As if to cruelly highlight Canada's offense woes, a free kick by Marcel de Jong rattled the crossbar in the 89th minute. Mexico, and the large turnout of Mexican fans, was able to celebrate their 2-0 win minutes later, leaving them in prime position to advance on Sunday.
With one game left to play, Panama leads Group A and has qualified for the quarterfinals with a pair of wins. Mexico is tied for second with Martinique. Each team has three points, though Mexico currently leads on goal differential with a +1 to Martinique's 0. Back to back shutout losses see Canada at the bottom of the group.
Group A closes out on Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver. Panama plays Canada at 1:30 p.m. MDT, the Great White North needing a win and help from other groups for their slim chances of advancing via third place. Mexico and Martinique take the field with everything to play for, as they wrap up the group at 4 p.m. MDT.