In Part I of our preview, we examined the tactical battles that will occur at Soldier Field, explained the “controlled” anarchy of the Panamanian counterattack, reminded you of the Feilhaber maestro the last time the Yanks played for a continental championship at Soldier Field, and continued our two-year long love affair with Panama’s Dely Valdes brothers, who get more out of little than most any coaching staff in the global game. Now it’s time to finish it off with a look at the individuals we think are the key to watch tomorrow. And while one is a bit of a “buttonhook”, given our outlandish praise for Blas Perez in the opening piece, the other is a no-brainer.
Panamanian Player to Watch: Alberto Quintero
The 25 year old winger has been Panama’s most consistently threatening player this Gold Cup, and he’s about to be Michael Parkhurst’s worst nightmare.
“But Jon, all you clowns at The Yanks Are Coming have a really unhealthy fascination with Panama and FC Dallas striker Blas Pérez. He’s healthy now and scoring goals, what the hell?”
You’re point is well taken hypothetical reader/voice in my head, and the man called Blas may in fact score on the Yanks as he’s been known to do in previous Gold Cups, but Quintero is the most likely creator of any Panamanian goal. Speaking of “Panamanian,” has anybody created a blue and red version of the old school yellow and red Hulkamania wrestling tee with “Panamania” on the front? There are contrarian hipsters in Chicago willing to pay $35 for this shirt RIGHT NOW! I digress.
Like our TYAC man-crush Blas Pérez, Alberto Quintero is a full national teamer for Panama. You might remember him exposing the hell out of Brad Evans last month in Seattle, making you remember that the new USMNT hero isn’t a right back by trade. That’s something neither Germany nor Jamaica could do, and Quintero was all over Evans from the first kickoff. To use one of my favorite British footy broadcasting terms, Alberto Quintero was “the danger man” (kinda reminds me of Danger Mouse, who kicks ass) in both Mexico matches. And obviously he played well against the ‘States in the World Cup qualifier. Quintero isn’t just a speed demon who likes to take on defenders with the ball at his feet, he’s a player that rises to the occasion in big matches. Good thing the US has one of those guys too.
US Player to Watch: Landon Donovan
This has been Landon Donovan’s tournament. And without Jurgen Klinsmann on the sideline, the veteran playmaker might have to both star for and coach the Yanks.
I want to be very clear, when Landon’s playing he’s pretty much always one of the players to watch for the Yanks, so I usually focus on another player in order to provide a little more insight than you get from your generic talking-head broadcasters who say things like “Landon needs to be special” and “you need your best players to play like your best players.” In this case, Lando’s earned himself a very well deserved “body of work” selection.
Y’know, like the villainous Peyton Manning being named Super Bowl 31 MVP when it was really the running backs and offensive tackles that beat the Bears down in Miami. Yes, Landon is on the wrong side of thirty. In fact, he’s 31, the same age Walter Payton was when the Monsters of the Midway beat down the Patriots in Super Bowl 20. And just like that Patriots team went into the Superdome knowing the defense was going to key on Payton, the Panamanian defense (read: all eleven dudes) will key on Donovan, whether he has the ball or not. Just being a focal point that pulls focus from other dangerous players like Eddie Johnson may well decide the match in the Yanks’ favor. And like Sweetness (see below), whether Landon scores in the championship match or not, the trophy will have his fingerprints all over it if the US lifts it at Soldier Field.
One last note on Landon. Since Jurgen Klinsmann challenged post-sabbatical Donovan to earn his way back onto the national team, number ten’s put in inspired performance after inspired performance, either creating or scoring over 75% of the American goals in this Gold Cup tournament. As his impact on matches has become more and more undeniable, the narrative around this tournament has switched to a conversation about Landon’s potential deployment with the first string national team. We welcome the conversation, and encourage you to check out our own Neil W. Blackmon’s excellent pieces on the subject.
As for my opinion on the subject, I don’t think we have a problem. As the real Klinsmann-style right backs get healthy (defenders by trade that love the overlap, like Cherundolo and Chandler), Graham Zusi’s unwavering allegiance to staying out on his wing can abate. That’s good for Zusi, who is wont to cut inside and shoot for Sporting KC, and great for Donovan, who will be allowed to drift inside and play creator-in-chief when he’s selected on the right; I assure you Deuce won’t mind the interplay. And since Landon can play either wing, drifting centrally half the time anyway, we’ve got a great option on the left wing for all those times when Fabian Johnson is hurt, or irritated because it’s hot outside, which is a lot of times.
Prediction: USA 3 – 2 Panama
Here’s your ridiculously detailed bold prediction; we finish 90 rousing, nail-biting, goosebump generating minutes plus stoppage time tied at one, then get three goals in a rather breathless last 30 minutes of the 2013 Gold Cup. I can’t believe I’m typing this last bit, but, Wondo with the nail in the coffin. The US win the continental championship for the first time in six years. Book it.
Enjoy the match(es), and Go USA!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com and you can and should follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.