Altidore scores in first start in 20 months, US tops Panama

Sports

Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon (12) blocks a shot against the United States as defender Francisco Palacios (2) watches during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Jozy Altidore made an impression in first return to the United States’ starting lineup.

Altidore scored on an overhead kick in his first start for the national team in 20 months, lifting the U.S. over Panama 1-0 Wednesday night as the Americans finished first in their CONCACAF Gold Cup group.

Altidore got the goal from 2 yards following a corner kick in the 66th minute that was redirected by Matt Miazga. Coming back from a hamstring injury that slowed him at the start of training camp, the 29-year-old Altidore scored his 42nd goal in 113 international appearances.

After the match, he walked by reporters and did not stop to respond to questions.

The defending champion United States went 3-0 in group play and outscored opponents 11-0. The 30th-ranked Americans play No. 79 Curacao in the quarterfinals at Philadelphia on Sunday, and the winner faces Jamaica or Panama in the semifinals.

“This is a team we can’t take lightly,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We’re going to go in fully prepared. They have talent. They can score goals.”

The plus-11 goal difference was the best in the Gold Cup for the Americans, topping plus-nine in 2013. The Americans did not allow a goal in a three-match group stage for the second time, the first since 2007, and improved to 36 wins, one loss and four draws in the Gold Cup group stage.

“I talked to Jozy at halftime and asked how much more he had in him,” Berhalter explained. “He said, ‘I want to stay on the field.’ When you hear that from a player, it makes you feel great. When that player goes out and scores the winning goal, it makes you feel even better.”

Both teams already had clinched quarterfinal berths. Berhalter changed all 11 starters and Panama nine. Altidore had not started since the loss at Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, 2017, that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances.

Defender Omar Gonzalez captained the U.S. for the first time. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson made his second competitive appearance, his first since a Gold Cup match against Costa Rica in July 2013.

The U.S. had nearly two-thirds possession, and pressure increased after Christian Pulisic entered in the 65th minute.

“We had a game plan going into it,” midfielder Christian Roldan said. “We kept the shutout. We kept them to one shot and zero corners. We’re pretty happy with the effort defensively. In the end, you grind out these games and win the group.”

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