KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Michael Bradley scored the equalizer early in the second half, helping the United States to a 1-1 draw with Panama on Monday night and wrapping up a sluggish but unbeaten trip through group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Blas Perez scored in the 34th minute to give Panama (0-1-2) the lead on a hot, humid night in the Midwest, and for a while it looked as if that would be enough.
But after second-half substitutions Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin energized the Americans (2-0-1), the U.S. finally began to attack. Alejandro Bedoya's perfect cross wound up on the right foot of Bradley, who poked the equalizer into the net in the 55th minute for his 14th international goal.
Already assured of first place in Group A, the U.S. improved to 30-1-3 in Gold Cup group play. But none of the Americans' three matches in this year's Gold Cup, including a 2-1 victory over Honduras and a 1-0 win over Haiti, left coach Jurgen Klinsmann brimming with confidence as they head into their quarterfinal Saturday in Baltimore.
Panama must await the outcome of the remaining group matches this week to know whether a pair of draws -- after blowing 1-0 leads in both games -- will be enough to advance.
If not, the U.S. will once again crippled Panama's hopes.
Two years ago, the Americans beat Los Canaleros 1-0 in the Gold Cup final. Three months later, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored in second-half stoppage time to deny Panama a spot in the World Cup in Brazil -- a berth that wound up going to Mexico.
For a while, it appeared that Panama might finally get some payback.
Needing a win to assure advancement, Panama pressed the attack early against the weary, sluggish Americans. Luis Tejada was called offside in the opening minutes after putting a shot in the back of the net, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan had to make a spectacular save of a corner kick that nearly turned into an own goal off Chris Wondolowski.
Panama finally broke through when Tejada slipped past Ventura Alvarado and crossed to Perez running between the center backs. The FC Dallas striker chipped it in for his 38th international goal, silencing a sellout crowd of 18,467 at Sporting Park.
It left the U.S. playing from behind for the first time this tournament.
In need of a spark, Klinsmann substituted in Yedlin and Dempsey -- who had scored all three American goals in their first two victories -- at the start of the second half.
Right away, their speed and creativity made a difference.
In the 55th minute, Dempsey took a pass from Gyasi Zardes while falling with his back to the goal, and poked it wide to Bedoya. He sent a perfect cross to Bradley, running from his spot in the midfield, and the captain knocked it for his second career Gold Cup goal.
Panama had a good chance to regain the lead in the 75th minute, but Guzan laid out to slap away a shot by Miguel Camargo, who had entered as a second-half substitute.
The U.S. had a couple of its own chances down the stretch, but Klinsmann's team appeared content with a draw. It was the third game in seven days for the Americans, and a physical one as evidenced by the bloody face of Kyle Beckerman in the closing minutes.