As much as the US men's national team will be looking for a measure of revenge in its CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal against Panama on Wednesday night (live, 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX Soccer Channel), the ultimate goal for the Americans remains the same as it was when the tournament began two weeks ago.
The goal: get to the Gold Cup final and a likely battle with arch-rival Mexico. A chance to win a trophy, and defeat its biggest rival in the process, is clearly at the top of every American player's wish list.
The United States is one step away from reaching that goal, but it is a tricky step indeed. Standing in the way is a confident and dangerous Panama side that has already beaten the USA this Gold Cup , handing the hosts their first group stage loss in tournament history.
"We aren't going to be taking them lightly," said US captain Carlos Bocanegra. "They already showed what they can do if you don't play well against them, and we're not planning on having that happen again."
As much as some American players talked about exacting some revenge on Panama, you could argue that the Central Americans have more to be seeking vengeance for than the United States. Panama has been eliminated from the past three Gold Cups by the United States.
From a brutal penalty kick loss in the 2005 final, to an overtime loss in the 2009 quarterfinal, a group that could be called Panama's best generation of talent in its history has been denied Gold Cup glory by the United States for the past six years.
The United States won't be worrying about history too much but will also be careful not to repeat recent history; namely, the 2-1 loss to Panama that led to some serious soul-searching and just might have lit a fire under the US men's national team, which has won both matches since (without allowing a goal in either).
The rematch will have its differences. For starters, Panama will be missing top striker Blas Perez, who was issued a red card in Panama's penalty shootout win versus El Salvador . Secondly, the United States will have had the chance to study the mistakes of the first meeting and work toward ensuring they aren't repeated.
"It's going to be a completely different game," said U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey. "We conceded early and they kind of sat back and tried to catch us on the counter. I think a fair result would've us getting back into the game because we pressed them the whole game after (going down)."
The United States will come in as a heavy favorite even after having lost to Panama, and plenty stacks up in the US team's favor. The squad is relatively healthy, except for forward Jozy Altidore. The team is playing well, coming off a pair of matches that saw good ball movement and the creation of many good chances. Panama comes in off a grueling penalty shootout victory against El Salvador. The Canaleros will direly miss Perez, who had scored in each of Panama's past three matches against the United States.
If anything, the best lesson the United States gained from the Panama loss was that patience was key in dealing with opponents content to sit back and counter. Panama worked that approach perfectly, but it also did so against a US team that clearly came out flat. Against Jamaica, the Americans showed patience and the ability to break teams down with a possession game.
Altidore's absence, though costly, may have opened the door for a better possession game by the United States, as Juan Agudelo is better equipped for the type of quick and creative interplay sparked by the 4-2-3-1 formation, particularly with Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan working passing triangles with the likes of Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan, who have both looked shark during the Gold Cup.
The question now is whether the United States can avoid a slow start and press Panama from the start as it did against Jamaica. The Americans really wore down Jamaica, particularly in midfield, but Panama has better passers and is also playing with the confidence that comes with being the only team besides Mexico to remain undefeated at this point in the tournament.
If the Americans can start strong, Panama's unbeaten record will fall, and the United States will face Mexico for the third straight Gold Cup final. Another slow start, however, and the United States could fall behind again and face another rough fightback.
That's a lesson the U.S. team doesn't sound too interested in learning a second time.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.