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USMNT loses to Panama, adding a bit of complexity to World Cup qualifying hopes

Four years ago, a loss in hot, humid conditions in Trinidad ended the U.S. national team’s hopes of playing in an eighth straight World Cup.

Sunday was the anniversary of that game, one the U.S. marked by once again playing in hot, humid conditions, this time in Central America. And once again the Americans came up short, falling to an energetic Panama 1-0.

The loss was just the Americans’ second in 24 games with Panama and the first in Estadio Rommel Fernández Gutiérrez, the national team’s aging oval-shaped home on the southeastern edge of the capital. It was also the first in 14 games for the U.S.

But while the defeat in Trinidad ended a World Cup cycle that never got going, Sunday’s result may prove to be nothing more than a speed bump for the U.S., which is tied for second with Panama with a 2-2-1 record five games into the 14-game qualifying tournament.

The U.S. has a chance to go back atop the table Wednesday when it meets Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio.

But the U.S. wasn’t the only team marking history Sunday. It was an anniversary of sorts for Panama which, on that same night four years ago, erupted in celebration when its national team clinched the first World Cup invitation in its history, taking the final CONCACAF qualifying berth that had just slipped from the Americans’ grasp.

Few in the sea of red that packed the stands Sunday had forgotten — and those who had were reminded when replays of Panama’s final qualifying win over Costa Rica played on the stadium’s tiny scoreboard as members of the 2018 team were saluted. A giant red-and-white banner hanging from a second-deck railing declared “Russia was a dream, Qatar a pledge” while the vaccinated crowd of about 30,000 chanted “si se puede” — yes we can.

And they did eight minutes into the second half, with Anibal Godoy nodding in a corner kick from Éric Davis. Godoy, 31, is the only Panamanian playing in MLS and among the players to he beat to Davis’ cross was Nashville teammate Walker Zimmerman.

Pushed on by the crowd, Panama ran through, around and over a shaky U.S. midfield throughout the first half but was unable to connect on the final pass, allowing the Americans to survive the onslaught and take a scoreless game into the halftime locker room for the fourth time in five qualifiers.

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