Panama's Luis Tejada tries to get a shot between U.S. defender Tim… (Brian Blanco / EPA )
The murmurs of surprise and displeasure last August that greeted Bob Bradley's four-year contract extension to remain as coach of the U.S. soccer team are likely to grow louder and more vitriolic after Bradley's team stumbled to a historic 2-1 Gold Cup loss to Panama on Saturday at Tampa. Fla.
First-half goals by Luis Tejada and Gabriel Gomez sparked the Central Americans to their first victory against the U.S., which lost in group play in the Gold Cup for the first time.
The win assures Panama of a berth in the quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive tournament. The U.S., unbeaten in 26 previous first-round Gold Cup matches, plays winless Guadeloupe in its final Group C game Tuesday at Kansas City, Kan., and is almost certain to advance as well.
But that does little to ease the sting of another uninspired performance by Bradley's team, which didn't seem much interested in playing until well into the second half of a physical match that produced 35 fouls and six yellow cards.
"We were a little flat and they came ready to play," U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan said. "It's a good learning lesson. We just can't start games like that. Teams are getting better and better in CONCACAF. And we learned a hard lesson tonight."
Gomez set up Panama's first goal in the 19th minute with a beautiful through ball that Armando Cooper redirected toward the net with a diving header. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard stopped that shot, but Tejada got just enough of his boot on the rebound to send the ball trickling across the goal line.
A horrendous error by U.S. defender Tim Ream 17 minutes later led to the second goal when Ream took down Blas Perez just inside the 18-yard box. Gomez converted the resulting penalty shot, blasting the ball straight down the middle while Howard, guessing wrong, dived to his right.
That left the U.S. with a big hill to climb.
"We're down, 2-0, so we had to push and push," Donovan said. "We're upset with how we started the game. We can't start games like that."
The U.S. comeback began in the 66th minute when a corner kick taken by Donovan sliced in front of the net and was headed it into an open area by Michael Bradley. An unmarked Clarence Goodson met the ball with a diving header of his own that cut Panama's lead in half.
The U.S. nearly got the equalizer three minutes later, but Clint Dempsey's header off a cross from Donovan sailed over the goal. And in the 81th minute MLS scoring champion Chris Wondolowski took a pass from Jozy Altidore steps in front of an open net, yet he somehow managed to chip his shot over the crossbar.
After that the U.S. attack grew frantic, but it was to no avail with a shot by Bradley from inside the area going wide by inches; Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo punching a well-aimed header over the net; and an open Donovan missing from a tough angle to the left of the goal deep into stoppage time.
Baxter reported from Los Angeles.