The USA vs. Panama game will feature two teams looking to advance through the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal. USA, fresh off a win against Jamaica, looks to have a slight advantage.
Panama will be without its best player, Blas Perez, who will be sidelined with gastroenteritis, according to Sports Illustrated. And while the Americans will be without midfielder Graham Zusi, who will miss the game with a yellow-card suspension and midfielder Jermaine Jones, who has a concussion, the recent emergence of Jozy Altidore should tip the balance.
After not scoring a goal since November 2011, Altidore has goals in his last two matches. The lone American forward has looked more assertive and has been around the net much more often. He set up multiple scoring chances against Jamaica.
The more Altidore can get the ball, the better. While Zusi has been essential in passing it to Altidore, Michael Bradley is more than capable of filling that role. In fact, he connected on the most passes in Jamaica.
In addition, the USA defense has been really strong of late. The back five of goalkeeper Tim Howard, defenders Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler has started the last three matches, and held a good Mexico team scoreless.
Omar Gonzalez, in particular, has been outstanding. According to NBC Sports, Gonzalez has played 360 minutes in four games, and yet has been on the pitch for just three goals.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann was effusive in his praise of the back-end, telling NBC Sports:
I think they’re on a very, very positive path. They’re gaining experience … they did very well. It’s a partnership that is growing, that is developing. We have other center backs there as well …The more they play together, the better their understanding is, the better they’re fine tuned and know what the other one is doing. We can do more work in a tactical way. So every training session helps there.
They will need to be strong, because the Americans have had trouble keeping a lead. The team has given up the equalizer in the last four games. This has led dropping eight of a possible 12 points.
Even without Perez, Panama can still score. Defender Matt Besler spoke highly of their talent, telling Goal.com that "we all know that Blas Perez is kind of the focal point for their attack, but they have a lot more talent too other than him."
It will be up to the back five to ensure that, if the USA has a lead, that they don't give it up. They can overcome that against teams like Jamaica, but they will be hard-pressed to do it against top teams like Spain, or Brazil in the World Cup.
If Altidore can continue being an offensive force—using Michael Bradley as a springboard instead of Graham Zusi—and if the defense can keep up its strong play, then the Americans should beat an undermanned Panama team very easily.