United States vs. Panama: Complete World Cup Qualifying Preview

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United States vs. Panama: Complete World Cup Qualifying Preview

After picking up three big points on the road against Jamaica Friday night, the United States men’s national team now heads home to take on Panama on Tuesday night as World Cup qualifying continues.

The game represents an important chance for the U.S. to vault itself to the top of the CONCACAF hexagonal. Here is your complete preview.

 

Where to Watch

The game will be broadcast on ESPN, WatchESPN and Unimas starting at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can also follow all of the action online with our live blog here.

If you’re going to be in Seattle, tickets are still available at www.USSoccer.com. And if you prefer to watch the game with fellow USMNT fans, check out this list of local American Outlaws chapter bars.

 

Form Guide

The U.S. heads into the match against Panama on a hot streak, having won five of its last seven qualifiers going back to the semifinal round. The Americans are currently second in the hexagonal behind Costa Rica on goal differential, with each team at seven points from four games.

Graham Zusi's winner v. Panama, January 2012

Panama is currently in fourth place in the hexagonal with six points from four games, having beaten Honduras and drawing against Costa Rica, Jamaica and Mexico. Overall, Panama is an impressive 8-1-5 in qualifying.

The last time these two met head-to-head was in January 2012. The U.S. fielded a team with only three of its current regulars and Panama fielded a team comprised primarily of its U-23 players. The U.S. walked away with the 1-0 victory in Panama City on a goal from Graham Zusi.

 

News and Notes

The USMNT arrived in Seattle on Saturday, taking the long flight the day after its win in Kingston. The team attended Saturday night’s Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer match, which was played on the grass surface the U.S. will play on Tuesday. CenturyLink Field has an artificial surface, but grass has been laid down for Tuesday's qualifier.

That surface became a talking point after the Sounders-Whitecaps matchup.

Besides the pitch conditions, the U.S. will also have a larger home crowd than usual for qualifiers, which are usually played in the smaller MLS stadiums. CenturyLink Field had almost 54,000 fans on hand for the Sounders-Whitecaps matchup, and at last count, nearly 35,000 tickets have been sold for Tuesday's contest.

 

Lineup News

There is big news for both teams on the lineup front.

On Saturday, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann addressed a number of his side’s personnel issues. Via Richard Farley of Pro Soccer Talk, Jermaine Jones will undergo tests Monday to determine his status (he left the Jamaica match with a suspected concussion) and that Herculez Gomez is unlikely to play due to a continuing issue with his knee.

It appears that Brek Shea is still out of commission due to ongoing issues with his calf, while Zusi will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation. It was also reported Saturday that Danny Williams was released from the roster due to “fitness” issues.

The big news coming out of the Panamanian camp Saturday was that Blas Perez, who has 29 career goals for Panama in international play (and was able to draw a red card on Geoff Cameron last matchup), will not be traveling with the team due to illness.

Geoff Cameron's red card v. Panama, January 2012

Perez’s absence is a big advantage for the American side, as he is exactly the type of striker the U.S. tends to struggle against.

 

Players to Watch

The big decisions for Klinsmann and company will be who replaces Jones (if need be) and Zusi.

The fact that the U.S. does not have Maurice Edu or Williams somewhat limits the options, but Klinsmann reminded everyone against Jamaica that Cameron can also play the holding midfield role. If Cameron is deployed there, it will also give Michael Bradley more license to roam forward and contribute to the attack.

Another obvious option for the Americans would be to bring Sacha Kljestan back into the starting XI as the box-to-box midfielder, while Bradley stays home to protect the back line.

The most unlikely option would be the use of attacking midfielder Joe Corona in Jones’ place, but Klinsmann has shown a tendency not to favor using a traditional No. 10 like Corona in the middle of the park.

Replacing Zusi on the flank poses a difficult dilemma, especially with Gomez also likely to miss the match. Klinsmann could use Eddie Johnson, who has played very well for the U.S. on the flank in the past, or give another chance to Brad Davis, who has been less than impressive in most of his previous USMNT appearances.

Luis Tejada's skill

In more unlikely scenarios, Klinsmann could move Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Corona or Kljestan out wide to take Zusi’s spot.

For Panama, with Perez out sick, all eyes will turn towards Luis Tejada—Panama’s all-time leading scorer with 35 international goals. Tejada is a talented striker—even at the age of 31—and is an experienced CONCACAF player, being named the Most Valuable Player of the 2005 Gold Cup.

 

Prediction

A strong home crowd in Seattle, as well as its recent form should give the U.S. confidence heading into the match, but missing Jones and Zusi will take away from the Americans' recent improvements on the chemistry front.

However, Panama’s loss of Perez is a major blow to the team, and the U.S., backed by a boisterous home crowd, will bring home the win, 2-1.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran

Follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/AmericanTouchline

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