With the close of Day Seven, the first of the three groups in this edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup has come to an end.
It was already clear that the USA was moving on to the next round, having won both their previous matches, while Haiti continued to impress in a difficult group, beating out both Panama and Honduras to finish second, taking the other guaranteed spot.
Honduras are out – take joy in the small things, Canadians – whereas Panama must await the completion of the other two groups to see if their third-placed offering of three points and a zero goal-differential is enough to take one of the two remaining spots.
At the luxurious Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, the aperitif in an evening of football was a match between upstarts Haiti and a struggling Honduras, playing to a 1-0 win for the Caribbean side.
Les Grenadiers started like a bolt, threatening the Honduran goal inside of ninety seconds to force a save out of Donis Escober. Pascal Millien was played down the right, whipping a tight angle shot on goal that required tipping over from Escober.
Haiti would take the lead in the thirteenth minute when Duckens Nazon pounced on a flicked header from Kervens Belfort down the right-side of the box, chopping a right-footer back against the grain, beating Escober to the left-side of goal.
The Central Americans looked disjointed and short of ideas. They muddled through the remainder of the first half, showing some life in the second to mount a challenge, but not much of one.
Substitute Eddy Hernandez would come on for Los Catrachos, working in down the left, only for Haitian keeper, Johnny Placide to stay big and quell the threat; Honduras' best. Mario Martinez whisked a shot from distance wide and Andy Najar worked into the left-post area, only to send his cross/shot strafing across the face of goal, wide if a shot and high if a cross.
Hernandez would find another chance, sending a right-footer sailing over, before a late header was guided over the bar, but there was a lack of urgency, or a certain resignation that overcame the Hondurans against a disciplined, hard-working Haiti.
The Haitians end the group stage with a record of one win, one loss, and one draw, reaching the quarterfinal stage for the third time in their sixth appearance at the Gold Cup. Honduras meanwhile, who reached the semifinal stage in 2013, beating Costa Rica before falling to the US, drop out early, failing to make the knockout rounds for the first time since 2003 – a span of six tournaments.
The question remaining, to be answered in evening's second match, was whether Panama could overturn the US to leapfrog Haiti into the guaranteed place. Though they did well to battle to a 1-1 draw in a rematch of the 2013 final, their fate will be determined by action in the other two groups.
The US had the better of the early chances: Alejandro Bedoya tried to squeeze in a low shot after working in down the right-side of the area and Michael Bradley sent an effort from long range wide.
Panama nearly stole the lead off an own-goal, when Ventura Alvarado's touch required a save from Brad Guzan. The keeper could not hold that ball, which fell to Blas Perez, leading to a shot from Valentin Pimentel that required a block on the goal-line from Fabian Johnson.
Los Canaleros would take the lead in the 33rd minute through Perez, tapping in a squared ball from strike partner, Luis Tejada, who beat Alvarado around the outside down the right to send the ball into the middle.
The Stars and Stripes would respond early in the second half, equalizing in the 54th minute through Bradley's sliding right-footed touch into an open net. Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes combined to put Bedoya in down the left-side of the box. He hit a low ball into the middle for the surging Bradley to finish.
In full knowledge that they needed a win to secure a spot, Panama would look to respond, but were largely limited to shots from range, all of them rather tame, as the clock ran out.
The Americans would top the group with a record of two wins and a draw, finishing with a plus-two and seven points, while Panama await their fate. Should the Central American side not move on, it will be the first time since 1993 that they will not be taking place in the knockout stages – they did not participate in the editions from 1996 to 2003 and have reached at least the second stage since returning in 2005.
The US will meet one of the third-placed finishers and Haiti faces the winner of Group B; both matches are set for July 18 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Should Panama progress, they will be facing the winner of Group C on July 19 in East Rutherford, New Jersey – either Trinidad and Tobago or Mexico.
Tuesday sees the final round of matches for Group B played in Toronto, Ontario, where Jamaica will face El Salvador in the opener at 6 pm ET and Canada meets Costa Rica afterwards at 8:30 pm ET.
Jamaica tops the group with four points and a plus-one, having drawn with Costa Rica and beaten Canada. Costa Rica sits in second on goals scored, tied with El Salvador on two points and a zero goal-differential, while Canada brings up the rear with a single point and a minus-one.