HOUSTON (AP) — The United States and Mexico are both one victory away from another showdown on the pitch.
Before the Americans can think about that, though, they have to atone for one of their most shocking losses in recent years.
The U.S. faces Panama and Mexico plays Honduras in the Gold Cup semifinals in Houston on Wednesday night. The winners will play in Saturday's championship game at the Rose Bowl.
The U.S. has won its last two games in shutouts after the stunning 2-1 loss to Panama less than two weeks ago. The Americans had never lost to Panama or dropped a match in group play in the Gold Cup, a biennial tournament started in 1991.
The Panamanians jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first half on June 11 and held on as the Americans controlled possession and finished with an 8-5 advantage in shots.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey says the Americans weren't shaken by the loss — and that Panama didn't expose any major weaknesses in his team.
"I don't really think we necessarily played that badly the whole game," Dempsey said. "We just started slow. As the game went on, we could've easily equalized the game, but we weren't able to finish a few of our chances."
The Americans wrapped up group play with a 1-0 win over Guadeloupe, then advanced to the semifinals after a 2-0 victory over Jamaica.
"As the tournament has gone on, we've gained in confidence and gained in form," Dempsey said. "We're peaking at the right time. I think we're catching form at the right time."
Mexico, meanwhile, has been dominant from the start, despite a depleted roster.
Five players — goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, defenders Francisco Rodriguez and Edgar Duenas, and midfielders Christian Bermudez and Antonio Naelson — were suspended before the tournament for positive tests for clenbuterol.
CONCACAF on Sunday allowed Mexico to replace the suspended players for the rest of the tournament, and defenders Paul Aguilar, Hiram Mier and Hector Reynoso and goalkeeper Luis Michel and midfielder Marco Fabian were added to the roster.
Aguilar, Mier and Reynoso practiced with the team on Tuesday, while Michel and Fabian would only be called to play in an emergency.
"We know we come to a team that is firing on all cylinders," Reynoso said. "I believe that we are here to do what Coach (Jose Manuel de la Torre) tells us to and show our level of play during practices."
Playing with a roster of 17, El Tri has still won its four Gold Cup games by a combined score of 16-2. If anything, star forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez says the suspensions have added motivation.
"It's different, it's been a little bit difficult," said Hernandez, the tournament's leading scorer with six goals. "But we're all very happy. Those five players are with us, in our hearts and our minds. We want to play and to win, because we feel like they're with us."
Mexico and the United States have won nine of the 10 Gold Cups and played in the last two finals. The U.S. won 2-1 in 2007, and the Mexicans won 5-0 in 2009.
The U.S. played Panama for the title in 2005, and the Panamanians bristle at the notion that the Americans and Mexicans are destined to meet again.
"There are people who think that Mexico and the United States have already reached the final," Panama defender Felipe Baloy said. "But the games haven't been played yet. Nothing's been written."
Panama will be short-handed for the rematch. Forward Blaz Perez earned a red card late in Sunday's 1-1 draw against El Salvador.
"It's a big loss for us because he is a player who gives it all on the field, a workhorse," Panama coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdez said. "He fits our tactical approach to a 'T,' so his absence is an important one to consider."
The Americans may also be missing one of their top players. Forward Jozy Altidore, who has scored two of the six U.S. goals in this Gold Cup, strained his left hamstring in the win over Jamaica and underwent an MRI exam in Houston on Tuesday.
International soccer matches are always huge draws in Houston, and Reliant Stadium is sold out for the doubleheader.
Last July, Manchester United defeated an All-Star team from Major League Soccer before a crowd of 70,728, the largest attendance figure for a soccer match at the venue. The U.S. and Mexico played at Reliant Stadium in 2008 and drew 70,103 people.