USA vs. Panama: Players to Watch at the World Cup
After stamping their tickets to next year’s World Cup with victory over Mexico back in September, USA were expected to take a back seat on Tuesday night as Mexico, Honduras and Panama battled it out for third and fourth spot in the CONCACAF region.
Instead, Juergen Klinsmann’s side became the story as they struck twice in injury-time to beat Panama 3-2 and end the home team's hopes of a World Cup berth.
The U.S. side’s dramatic win also handed archrivals Mexico a lifeline. El Tricolor looked down and out after a 2-1 defeat to Costa Rica—who joined Honduras as the other automatic qualifiers from the region—but Aron Johannsson’s last-minute winner for the U.S. in Panama City saw Mexico secure the one and only play-off spot.
It marked the third consecutive time USA have finished atop the CONCACAF World Cup qualification table, and their 22 points from 10 matches equaled their previous highest Hexagonal total, which they achieved in 2005.
Despite a relatively comfortable qualification campaign, the Stars and Stripes struggled on their travels at times with losses to Honduras and Costa Rica on the road.
But with their place in Brazil cemented Klinsmann has eight months to plan his side’s Rio assault. Here’s a look at some of the best players at his disposal.
Will USA qualify for the knock-out stages at next year's World Cup?
After Egypt’s 6-1 first-leg playoff defeat to Ghana on Tuesday night, head coach Bob Bradley’s dreams of Brazil have been all but extinguished, but things are looking significantly brighter for his son, Michael.
Despite suffering an injury towards the end of Team USA’s qualification campaign, Bradley Jnr. has been integral to his country’s World Cup hopes.
While his fitness has been a concern this season, the 26-year-old will need to be at his energetic best if the U.S. are going to make an impact in Rio.
Bradley, who cemented his place in central midfield for Roma last season as they finished sixth in Serie A, is arguably the USA's best player. Along with his central-midfield partner Jermaine Jones, Bradley gives his country steel and inventiveness in the middle of the park.
Klinsmann shocked a large portion of U.S. fans ahead of their game with Panama when he announced that Dempsey isn’t guaranteed of a spot in Brazil, but it is impossible to envision a U.S. team without the 30-year-old in the side.
#USMNT captain Clint Dempsey isn't guaranteed a spot on the 2014 World Cup team, coach Jurgen Klinsmann says.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 15, 2013
The versatile attacking midfielder has made over 100 appearances for his country and scored 12 goals since the start of 2012.
Dempsey, who impressed at Fulham before joining Tottenham at the start of the 2012 season, is the type of headline-grabbing performer that the U.S. need in Brazil.
He scored in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and is one of the few players in the U.S. side with the ability to turn a game with a single moment of brilliance.
Schalke’s Jermaine Jones is one of just two U.S. players—along with Anderlecht’s Sacha Kljestan—competing in the Champions League this year.
The German-born American missed out on his country’s last two games after picking up a knee injury and, while it had been reported—per Sky Sports—that Jones was set to undergo surgery, the 31-year-old refuted these claims on twitter:
On my way to training soon!! Surgery ?? No... Schalke 04 is more important atm!! Reading BILD is always the funniest moment of my day!— Jermaine Jones (@Jermainejunior) September 30, 2013
Jones, who only began representing the U.S. in 2010 after playing for Germany at underage level, missed out on the 2010 World Cup with injury, and he will be eager to impress when he steps foot on football’s biggest stage.
The rugged central midfielder has struck up a good partnership with Bradley in midfield, which will be vital for Klinsmann’s side in Brazil.
It’s impossible to talk about a U.S. team and the World Cup without mentioning Landon Donovan.
The forward may no longer be the first—or even the 11th—name on Klinsmann’s team sheet, but, as the all-time leading goalscorer for his country, Donovan will be at the forefront of everything the U.S. do whether it’s off the bench or in the starting lineup.
He has scored eight and assisted another eight goals this year and his delivery from dead ball situations can swing games in his country's favour, which will be crucial when the US come up against tougher opposition at the World Cup.
His experience and leadership will make up an important part of the US team next June.
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