When the United States faces Panama in a World Cup-qualifying match on Tuesday night, each side will be looking to solidify its place near or at the top of the hexagonal.
For the United States, a win would put them atop the group with 10 points, having played one fewer game than Mexico with three games still to come at home. While a draw would be a disappointment, it certainly wouldn't be the end of the road.
For Panama, a win would catapult them above the United States and possibly land them atop the group, while a draw would be a positive result and keep them in the chase to land a top-three spot and automatic qualification or a fourth-place finish, which would put them in a playoff with New Zealand.
Let's take a closer look at this important CONCACAF battle.
When: Tuesday, June 11 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
What They're Saying
There hasn't been a player that has reversed his international career more in the past year than DeMarcus Beasley, who made the adjustment to left-back for the United States. Jeff Carlisle of ESPN breaks down his journey:
In 2012, the end of Beasley's international career seemed imminent. When he came on as a substitute in last August's 0-0 tie with Mexico, it marked his sole appearance for the U.S. national team that calendar year. He wasn't exactly a mainstay the previous two years either. He made only four appearances in 2010, three in 2011. He was the very definition of bit-part status, a far cry from the 2002 World Cup when he was thrust into the U.S. starting lineup against Portugal as a 20-year-old.
But 2013 has seen a complete turnaround in Beasley's international fortunes. Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Panama at Century Link Field will be his sixth appearance this year, all of which have come while playing the relatively unfamiliar position of left back. Overall, Beasley has held up well. His ability to get forward has never been in question, but on the defensive side of the ball he has exceeded expectations with his tackling and tenacity. Even when beaten, as he was at times in the World Cup qualifier against Mexico, he has been able to recover and make big plays.
"Right now he's doing a tremendous job for the team," said U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann after Friday's 2-1 win against Jamaica. "As of today, he's locked in, and he deserves it."
United States Player to Watch: Geoff Cameron
While Clint Dempsey is the United States' best player and Michael Bradley is this team's midfield lynchpin, Geoff Cameron will arguably be the most important player if he's given the start on Tuesday night.
With the injury to Jermaine Jones, who suffered a concussion against Jamaica, Cameron will likely step into the defensive-midfielder role. Jones is brilliant at providing a physical force in the middle of the pitch, winning back the ball and supporting the back line.
Now, Cameron will likely be asked to play that same role, freeing up Bradley to be the creative link between the defense and back line rather than play a more defensive role. If Cameron stands up well, the United States should win this match.
But if he falters, Panama could make things very interesting.
Panama Player to Watch: Rolando Blackburn
The Panama forward has the unenviable role of replacing the country's top offensive weapon, FC Dallas' Blas Pérez, who has scored five goals in 10 appearances for his MLS side and is one of Panama's top players.
Blackburn isn't Pérez, that much is certain, but if Panama is to steal a point or even three from this contest, he must provide his country with a presence atop the attack. If he doesn't, the United States will not only control possession but should keep a clean sheet as well.
It's hard to bet against the United States in this contest. Even without Jones and Graham Zusi, the Yanks come into this game with a lot of momentum after the win in Jamaica and with the chance to steal 10 points from their first five games, especially impressive since three of those contests were on the road.
The United States will get the home win in convincing fashion, 2-0.
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