ALEX KURIAL - Monday, July 22, 2013
Quarterfinal MLS highlights saw Blas Perez put the emphatic finishing touches on a Panamanian rout of Cuba, while Marvin Chavez helped his Honduran side book a date in the semifinals with a win over Costa Rica.
Saturday's first game set Group A winners Panama against Cuba. Cuba had secured their spot through an unlikely win over Belize on the final day of group stage games, and early on it looked like they could be destined for another miracle win.
Forward Jose Alfonso tipped home his second goal of the tournament from 12 yards out to open the scoring in the 21st minute. However it would be all Panama from then on, starting with the tying goal four minutes later.
A handball in the box by Cuban defender Renay Malblanche led referee Mark Geiger to immediately call for a penalty. Gabriel Torres stepped up and notched his fourth goal of the tournament left side from the spot.
Torres put home his fifth goal 12 minutes later, tying him with U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski for the tournament lead. FC Dallas forward Blas Perez won a strong header in the box to Torres, who blasted home a volley to give Panama the 2-1 lead.
The game remained close until halftime and well into the second half before Panama finally pulled away. This was in part thanks to a 58th minute red card to Ariel Martinez for a vicious challenge on Perez.
In the 68th minute Carlos Rodriguez settled a deflected pass in the box before perfectly placing a shot right side past a diving Odelin Molina. Perez got his first of two goals on the night 10 minutes later, calmly burying on the breakaway to put Panama up an insurmountable 4-1.
The Central American side wasn't done scoring however, with two more goals to be added in the last five minutes. The 85th saw Jairo Jimenez bury short side from the left after walking in unopposed against a broken Cuban defense.
Two minutes later Perez was back to work to bring Panamanian fans to their seat for a tournament high sixth time. A shot by Jimenez was spilled by Molina, allowing a waiting Perez to tap home into the empty net from six yards out.
Following their 6-1 statement win, Panama awaited the result of Saturday's second game from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, between Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago, to learn their semifinals partner.
Trinidad and Tobago were forced to go without Vancouver Whitecaps defender Carlyle Mitchell for the crucial game. Mitchell had started all three group stage games, but was injured in practice prior to Saturday. This left Philadelphia Union midfielder Keon Daniel as the only MLS player to take part in the game.
The teams traded chances in the first half, but entered halftime still tied 0-0. Trinidad and Tobago's best chance of the second half came courtesy of a Daniel header from the penalty spot, but the shot barely missed to the right.
With overtime looming, Mexico came through with the game's lone goal in the 84th minute. A hard pass from the right side by Miguel Layun was deflected by Raul Jimenez, rolling far side and just inside the left post. The goal was Jimenez's second of the tournament, both game winners.
Daniel put one more header on goal in the dying minutes, but goalie Jonathan Orozco was not to be beat on this night, claiming a shutout in Mexico's 1-0 win.
The semifinal between Panama and Mexico will take place Wednesday from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. The sole MLS man on either roster, Perez will look to build on his dominant performance against Cuba and send his team to the finals for the first time since 2005. Mexico meanwhile will be looking to make their fourth consecutive Gold Cup final.
Sunday's final game from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore saw Group B winners Honduras taking on Costa Rica, with four MLS players in action at kickoff.
Costa Rica had the majority, giving three starting positions to their MLS contingent. New York Red Bulls defender Roy Miller was moved up to midfield, while the two forward positions went to Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio and Jairo Arrieta from the Columbus Crew. Honduras started San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Marvin Chavez in midfield.
While the first half produced no goals, just four minutes after the break Honduras broke the deadlock. A right side cross from Alexander Lopez to the middle of the box found Andy Najar, who proceeded to head the ball home left side from 10 yards out.
Saborio had several chances to tie the game as the half wore on. His best opportunity came on a breakaway, but goalie Donis Escober stood tall and denied Saborio with a kick save.
Chavez departed in the 71st minute, left to watch a tense finish from the sideline. Costa Rica threw everything on goal in the closing minutes, but Escober and the Honduran defense held strong for the 1-0 shutout win.
Honduras now plays the U.S. on Wednesday in the day's first semifinal game from Cowboys Stadium. Honduras is looking to get to its first Gold Cup final since 1991, but face an explosive American side that has 16 goals in their four tournament games.