It seemed like it was all going to go according to plan. The Canadian Men's U17 team had booked their place in the U17 World Cup this fall in their comeback win against Jamaica on Saturday, and were heading into their match against Panama full of confidence. And - as the Fox commentators kept mentioning - Panama had never scored a goal against the U17s in all the times they had met in this tournament through the years.
The U17s didn't need to win this game but winning this tournament - something they'd never done before - would have been a great boost to the Canadian psyche (both player and fan) going into the World Cup, as well as help get that 'can't win in Central America' monkey off our collective backs. Sadly it was not to be.
Playing in front of a fairly raucous crowd of over 10,000 at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Canada started the game out in full control with sustained pressure and attacking well. In the early minutes they were especially dangerous down the left and in the fifth minute it all clicked when Matthew Chow sent a beautiful cross into the box that was expertly headed into the goal by Marco Bustos. It was a gorgeous goal and put the Canadians up 1-0 in the early goings.
As the half continued Canada were more or less in control, dominating the play and looking very comfortable. They had another great opportunity to score in the 18th minute with a free kick on the edge of the box, but Bustos skied it over the net and the danger was snuffed out.
After that Panama began to take control of the match and were pressing hard. The Canadian midfield seemed unable to retain possession as Panama attacked again and again. At first the Canadian defense was able to snuff out the Panamanian attack and in turn it seemed as though any shot taken (usually by the very dangerous Ismail Diaz) went nowhere near the net.
However in the 37th minute Yahir Marroquin - who like Diaz seemed to be everywhere - sent a cross in from the right to Diaz who put the ball past Marco Carducci for his third goal of the tournament and (sigh) Panama's first ever goal against Canada in the U17 tournament. The teams would go into the half tied at 1-1.
The second half began much as the first ended with Panama coming out flying and dictating the play. Ismail Diaz and Marroquin continued to be a dangerous duo and broke down the right side again and again. Hoping to inject some of the same energy that he brought to the Jamaican game, Coach Fleming brought in Jordan Hamilton for Matthew Chow in the 56th minute.
But with very little flow to Canada's game and Luis Canate causing all sorts of trouble - including setting up what was a nice bit of work between him and Ervin Zorrilla in the 74th minute that seemed to put Panama ahead but it was called offside - neither Hamilton or Musse (who came on for goalscorer Bustos in the 69th minute) could get the Canadian attack restarted.
Panama had pretty much full control for the remainder of the half sending in waves of pressure and leaving Canada with little to do but try to clear the ball over and over. And in the 81st minute the combo of Canate and Zorrilla would culminate in the go ahead goal. A lovely pass from Canate and then Zorrilla with the stutter step to split the defenders and a hard hit strike into the far corner. Panama goes up 2-1, the entire team left the field (no card ref?) jumping over the advertising boards as jubilant celebrations erupted throughout the stadium.
And then at the death, that chance! Oh that amazing chance for Canada. Given a free kick just past the half, the ball looped in beautifully and six - seriously six! - white shirts surrounding Panamanian keeper De Grasia, the offside trap failing and no one can get a foot on the ball. Maddening and disbelieving to watch really, but after the shortest three minutes of added time ever - and some expert level time wasting by Zorrilla - the whistle blew and Panama had defeated Canada for the first time ever in the U17 tournament.
Canada will now play Honduras - Revenge! - in the third place match on Friday at 6pm (ET) while Panama takes on Mexico in the final at 9pm (ET). The loss while disappointing doesn't lessen the fact that several months from now the boys will be in Dubai competing for the U17 World Cup. Highlights and coach Sean Fleming's reactions to the match are below: