On June 11, the United States put in one of their most embarrassing performances in recent memory. They were not only defeated by Panama, but they were outplayed. Outplayed by a team with okay talent, an average domestic league by CONCACAF standards, and only a couple of players who could crack the USMNT. At home. It was a poor showing, and since then, they have looked slightly improved, save for the finishing in the Guadeloupe game. Now, they get a shot at revenge in the Gold Cup semifinals.
Blas Perez, the striker who drew a penalty on Tim Ream in the first game, will not be playing after he picked up a red card for fighting in Panama's quarterfinal game against El Salvador. Panama have a respectable starting XI, but they're not a team that anyone would classify as deep. Striker is no exception, and the loss of Perez will be huge for a Panamanian team that can't be too thrilled with their star's antics.
The key player for Panama will continue to be central defender Felipe Baloy of Santos Laguna in the Mexican Primera, who is perhaps under-appreciated when people discuss CONCACAF's elite because he plays for Panama and he doesn't play in Europe. The powerful defender outplayed Jozy Altidore by a significant margin in the first meeting between these two teams, but Altidore will not be starting this game due to injury.
Instead, Baloy will be facing off against Chris Wondolowski or Juan Agudelo, a couple of completely different players. Wondolowski is a stronger player who will play with his back to goal a little more often than Agudelo, but Agudelo is the much quicker of the two. In either case, Baloy has the advantage, but depending on how the USMNT lines up, he could be marginalized to some degree.
The United States played with a 4-2-3-1 formation that featured an attacking band of Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, and Sacha Kljestan in front of two holding midfielders and behind a striker. It seems safe to assume that Landon Donovan will come in for either Bedoya or Kljestan, but it's important which one he replaces.
If he replaces Bedoya, expect the general shape and tactics of the team to look exactly the same, just with a more experienced player on the wing. If he replaces Kljestan or - and this would be extremely bold - either of the two holding players, then all bets are off. Donovan could be a striker, Dempsey could move inside to the position Kljestan occupied against Jamaica, or something new could emerge.
More likely than not, Donovan will replace Bedoya and Agudelo will replace Altidore as Bob Bradley starts with a lineup that looks very much like the one that played for the majority of the game against Jamaica. He could throw a wrench in things, but with Altidore out and Donovan back, he doesn't have a wide variety of options.
The the bad taste lingering from their earlier defeat against Panama, the United States will probably be determined to get to the final and book a date with either Mexico or Honduras. Against a team that is without Blas Perez, their task should probably be much easier. However, Panama shouldn't be underestimated, since we all know how well that turned out last time.