Panama, Cuba battle to stalemate in CMOQ opener

Action from the 2015 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship opener between Panama (red jersey) and Cuba in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo: Mexsport)

KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Josiel Nuñez struck for a second-half equalizer as 10-man Panama rallied for a 1-1 draw with Cuba in the opening match of the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship at Sporting Park on Thursday. 

The United States and Canada will meet to complete the Group A doubleheader later in the evening. 

Cuba got off to a dream start thanks to a fortunate bounce. Panama goalkeeper Elieser Powell settled a back pass and attempted to kick it into midfield. His low clearance, however, deflected off Maykel Reyes -- the only other player in the box -- and caromed into the goal to give Cuba a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. 

Reyes also secured Cuba’s spot in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals with the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Guatemala and also netted in a 2-1 loss to the Korea Republic in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. 

Panama leveled in the 75th minute, when an unmarked Nuñez latched onto a cross from Michael Murillo and headed past frozen goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez from eight-yards out. 

Three minutes later, Panama was reduced to 10 men after Fidel Escobar was shown a straight red card by Mexican referee Luis Santander for a slide tackle on Yosel Piedra. 

The Cubans nearly doubled their lead in the 37th minute, but Adrian Arturo Diz Pe’s blast from distance deflected off the inside of the far post. 

Panama’s best chance of the first half came four minutes from halftime. Carlos Small shed a tackle and made an ambitious run into the box, only for his effort to go well wide. 

In the 54th minute, Edgar Yoel Barcenas was played behind the Cuban defense, took a touch and fired a shot on frame that had Sanchez beat. The low left-footer from 14 yards bounced off the woodwork and remained in play. 

Abdiel Arroyo had a chance to level for Panama in the 66th minute, latching onto a ball over the top of the Cuban defense. His shot off the bounce was saved by Sanchez. 

Minutes afterwards, Small went for a highlight-reel goal, but Sanchez saved his back-heel flick. 

Both teams return to play on Saturday – also at Sporting Park -- with Panama meeting Canada and Cuba taking on the United States.