How USMNT Will Line Up Against Panama
On Tuesday, the United States men’s national team will take on Panama in the final game of its CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign.
While the U.S. has already qualified, the game has implications for Panama, who must win and have Mexico lose to keep alive their World Cup hopes.
For the U.S., with many top players out injured, the game will represent an important opportunity for some role players to make their case for more playing time in the future.
Here is how the U.S. will line up.
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan
Yesterday, U.S. Soccer announced that Tim Howard would be heading home as part of a “planned rotation of players.”
While the U.S. also has Nick Rimando and Sean Johnson on the roster, the start will go to Brad Guzan. If Guzan puts in another strong performance, as he did against Costa Rica and Mexico back in March when Howard was injured, it will help further Guzan’s case to replace Howard in the regular starting XI.
Left-Back: DaMarcus Beasley
Figuring out who will start at left-back on Tuesday is a bit of a toss-up. While DaMarcus Beasley has—in the words of Klinsmann, per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle—"cemented himself” in the left-back role, he did come out of Friday’s game against Jamaica with a hamstring injury.
If Beasley recovers in time, the starting job is still his. If he’s still carrying the injury, Edgar Castillo will deputize in the role.
Center-Back: Clarence Goodson
Clarence Goodson was a late call-up to the squad, but with U.S. Soccer’s announcement that Matt Besler is heading home, Goodson will get the start in the back.
Despite having more than his fair share of shaky moments over the past three years with the USMNT, Goodson put in a solid performance this summer in the Gold Cup and followed that up with a good effort against Mexico in September.
Center-Back: Geoff Cameron
With the depth at center-back, including Besler, Goodson, Omar Gonzalez and potentially John Anthony Brooks and Michael Orozco, it might make more sense to start Geoff Cameron at right-back against Panama, but Klinsmann’s recent comments make that an unlikely scenario.
Cameron started against Jamaica at center-back and played well. Despite the fact that Cameron usually plays right-back for his club, Stoke City, Klinsmann commented before the Jamaica game that he hopes Cameron supplants Robert Huth or Ryan Shawcross at center-back at Stoke (per Jeff Carlisle of ESPN).
Klinsmann also stated that he feels Cameron’s best position is at center-back, despite the fact that he can also play at right-back, left-back and holding mid.
Right-Back: Brad Evans
It should be pretty obvious by now that Klinsmann’s preferred No. 1 at right-back is Brad Evans. Klinsmann must be given a lot of credit for the idea to play Evans, normally a center midfielder, at right-back in a move that has paid dividends for the U.S.
Klinsmann first tried the experiment in the January friendly against Canada and then replicated the move this summer against Germany and through the June games of World Cup qualifying.
However, with Steve Cherundolo still recovering from knee surgery, Cameron preferred in the middle, Michael Parkhurst devoid of playing time at the club level and Timmy Chandler still in Klinsmann’s dog house, the U.S. could still use one more option at right-back.
The U.S. tried Michael Orozco on the right against Costa Rica last month, but he was poor. He could be given another chance against Panama, or Cameron on the right with Orozco in the middle, but Evans is still the favorite for the start.
Holding Midfielder: Kyle Beckerman
Kyle Beckerman is the “little engine that could” for the USMNT. Never the most athletic player and certainly not the flashiest, Beckerman has continued to keep his name in the conversation for a spot on the World Cup roster.
He played well in the Gold Cup and last month against Mexico. His simple possession and willingness to hold back to release his midfield partner forward make him a valuable asset, and with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones out due to injury, Beckerman will get the nod on Tuesday.
Holding Midfielder: Sacha Kljestan
Sacha Kljestan has never been a favorite of Klinsmann, often not being called into U.S. camps despite playing for Belgian champions and Champions League participants Anderlecht.
Even last month when the U.S. was desperately short at center midfielder for the September qualifiers, Kljestan was left off the U.S. roster.
However, he was called in for this camp, and his performance against Jamaica on Friday was solid. With Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley out due to injury, this will be Kljestan’s chance to shine over 90 minutes.
Attacking Midfielder: Mix Diskerud
With Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey out due to injuries and the 4-4-2 largely ineffective against Jamaica, Mix Diskerud will get the start in the No. 10 role in Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1.
Diskerud is one of the team's most creative players and creates goals every time he steps on the pitch for the USMNT. Many criticized his performance against Jamaica on Friday when he played in a deeper-lying role for most of the match, but Diskerud was solid in possession, good in the tackle and, when moved higher up the field late in the game, played a part in both of the U.S. goals.
Left Midfielder: Alejandro Bedoya
Alejandro Bedoya had a rather ho-hum performance against Jamaica on Friday, but with Fabian Johnson and Landon Donovan out injured and Joe Corona not called in, Klinsmann has little other choice.
If Klinsmann were in the mood to experiment (which he has said he’s not, per Steve Brisendine of mlssoccer.com), he could give Aron Johannsson a run out in the wide spot.
Johannsson had a mixed performance against Jamaica, looking lively at times, scared at others. But, with Johannsson unlikely to supplant Jozy Altidore or Eddie Johnson up top in Klinsmann’s preferred single-striker set, Johannsson’s best shot at making the lineup is by proving his worth out wide.
Right Midfielder: Graham Zusi
Over the past year, Graham Zusi has made a lot of critics eat their words (myself included). While certainly not the flashiest player, Zusi’s playmaking ability, wide service and finishing skills are exactly what is needed by the USMNT right now.
On Friday against Jamaica, being brought on at the half for Landon Donovan, Zusi made the most of his 45 minutes, far outplaying the U.S. legend he replaced.
Striker: Jozy Altidore
Plenty of U.S. fans are worried about the current club form of Jozy Altidore at Sunderland, where he remains scoreless in league play. However, Klinsmann recently indicated how happy he is that Altidore is challenging himself in the EPL (h/t Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald).
Altidore’s performance on Friday was not great, but he looked much better in the final 20 minutes when the U.S. pushed him higher up the field in the role he flourished in this summer with the U.S.
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