ST. PAUL, Minn. — The opening game for Group D in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup went to Panama on the strength of a pair of second-half goals. For La Marea Roja, it established the Panamanians as heavy favorites to join the United States as Group D’s representatives in the quarterfinals. For Trinidad and Tobago, the defeat has presented the Soca Warriors with a mountain to climb.
Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdés praised his side’s patience following the game, with his players remaining disciplined and focused after a first half that bore no fruit. And this on heels of four friendlies in which Los Canaleros scored only a single goal in total. In defense of his charges, Valdés said his expectations had not changed following the 2-0 win, and that there were a number of considerations he took away from his team’s play heading into the Gold Cup in addition to the scoring drought.
“We’ve got ourselves in a bit of a hole which now means we need to start thinking about getting two wins from the two next games,” said Soca Warriors head coach Dennis Lawrence. “That’s international football. If you don’t take your chances and you give away sloppy possession, Panama’s got quality players that can do that to you. So we need to recover very quickly, pull away from all the negatives and go into the next game.”
Allianz Field’s international debut got off to a slow start, as a nervous energy from both teams led to sloppy play in the game’s opening moments. A José Fajard header in the 15th minute for Panama teased the small but noticeable contingent of Los Canaleros fans dispersed throughout the stadium, but sailed harmlessly out of bounds. In the 20th minute, a foul by Armando Cooper on Levi García earned the Soca Warriors a free kick 25 yards from goal. When Jomal Williams’ right-footed shot thundered into the wall and was quickly cleared, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s precious few threatening moments of the first half was left wanting.
Where possession was fairly even across the opening 45 minutes, and neither team managed a shot on target, Los Canaleros outshot the Soca Warriors 9-2. With the final attempt of the first half, Gabriel Torres put his laces through a shot that scream wide of the near post, breaking a cupholder in the single-tier south stand known to Minnesota United fans as the Wonderwall. It was perhaps the most damage Trinidad and Tobago would inflict on the evening.
Panama began the second half on its front foot and never relinquished momentum, placing seven of its eight shots on target. Soca Warriors keeper Marvin Phillip saved five of those shots in an impressive solo effort that lacked compliment from his teammates.
When Gabriel Torres fed Armando Cooper and the latter rounded Phillip to score the opener in the 53rd minute, it was well within the run of play. When Édgar Bárcenas poked in a second rebound following a pair of brilliant saves from Phillip, the game was effectively over.
One of the bigger cheers of the night came when Kevin Molino was announced ahead of the opening kickoff. With the Trinidadian attacking midfielder currently playing his club soccer for Minnesota United, Molino received a warm welcome from his adopted home town. But it was a quiet game for the No. 10, who had only recently returned to action for the Loons following a 2018 knee injury.
“When you come to [Molino’s] home stadium, I think it would have been foolish of us not to try to take advantage of that situation, and he did relatively well tonight,” said Lawrence. “He got into good goal-scoring situations where you can see if he was just a bit sharper — he would have to get just a bit quicker. So, Kevin did alright and he’ll build as the tournament goes on.”