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USA vs. Panama: Biggest Thing Each Team Needs to Do to Ensure Victory

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 11:  Jozy Altidore #17 of USA dribbles against Leonel Parris #2 and Roman Torres #5 of Panama during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier at CenturyLink Field on June 11, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2013

The beautiful beaches of Brazil can often be enchanting. Maybe that's why the United States played so badly against Jamaica.

The U.S. clinched their spot in the 2014 World Cup following a victory over Mexico in Columbus back in September. It was a great result, both for beating El Tri and finally getting that spot secured after things were looking so bad not that long ago.

However, the job is not completed yet. The U.S. still have one more qualifying match, against a Panama side that needs a win to hold on to any chance of qualifying for Brazil. The Americans also have to atone for what was a poor showing against Jamaica.

Here's what each team needs to do the most in order to come away with three points on Tuesday.

 

United States: Play with Some Urgency and Determination

Oct 11, 2013; Kansas City, KS, USA; United States midfielder Graham Zusi (19) brings the ball up field against Jamaica during the second half at Sporting Park. The United States won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

It's pretty simply what the United States need to do—actually play. For the first 60-65 minutes of that 2-0 win against Jamaica, they were asleep at the wheel.

Yes, the United States have qualified, leaving very little importance on this final game. That doesn't give the players license to go through the motions for 90 minutes. Juergen Klinsmann is purposefully choosing the players he thinks have the most to prove regarding their spot on the team.

Aside from the performances of Edgar Castillo and Graham Zusi, there wasn't much to write home about.

Should the United States play like that again, they'll be dead in the water.

Winning in Panama City will be hard enough. CONCACAF road venues are notoriously tough, and the Estadio Rommel Fernandez is no different.

Sep 10, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann celebrates a 2-0 win over Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

As if that's not enough, Panama have everything on the line. They must get three points in order to have a shot at fourth in the group, which would mean qualification for the playoff against New Zealand. There's no chance the Panamanians will be content to let the clock tick down and play defensively the entire match.

The United States will need to come out sharp. They have to grab control of the match right from the outset and assert their dominance. While they arguably have more talent, the home atmosphere and player motivation will be the equalizers for Panama.

It will take everything the Americans have just to claw away a 1-0 win. Another performance like they had against Jamaica will result in an embarrassing loss.

 

Panama: Make the Most of Early Chances

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 20:  Blas Perez #7 of Panama celebrates after a goal during the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal game against Cuba at the Georgia Dome on July 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Goals always change games, and the earlier you can score, the quicker you put the team on the back foot and change the narrative of the match.

Look at the United States' loss to Costa Rica in San Jose. Johnny Acosta scored off a corner in the third minute, with Celso Borges doubling the lead six minutes later.

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Yeltsin Tejada #17, Johnny Acosta #2 and Cristian Gamboa #16 against the United Sates during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional on September 6, 2013 in San Jose, Costa Rica.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Just like that, the U.S. were looking at a two-goal deficit in hostile territory on foreign soil. With that two-goal cushion, Costa Rica could bunker down and let the United States keep the ball in the attacking half but away from the 18-yard box. According to ESPN FC, the States had 66 percent of possession.

But they lacked that killer ball into the box and had no answer for how to break down the organized Costa Rican defense.

Ideally, Panama can follow that blueprint and just get a quick 2-0 lead on the United States. Considering that is probably going to be difficult, this just boils down to Panama making the most of their early chances, whether they are straightforward shots on goal or come from set pieces.

Scoring in the first 15 to 20 minutes will get the fans into the game and heap the pressure on what will be a weakened United States side.

It's also going to be important to score some goals in order to catch up to Mexico in goal differential. Panama can't afford to be conservative and play for a draw or a 1-0 win.

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