Game: United States Men’s National Team vs Panama (World Cup Qualifier)
Date: Tuesday, Mar. 28
Time: 10:00 PM Eastern, 9:00 PM Central, 7:00 PM Pacific, 3:00 AM UTC
Venue: Estadio Rommell Fernandez, Panama City, Panama.
Television: beIN Sports, Telemundo, NBC Universo
Streaming: beIN Sports Connect, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo, NBC Universo Now, FuboTV
All-time record: 11-1-4 (Last meeting, 1-1 (3-2 pen.) Panama, Gold Cup 3rd Place Match, July 25, 2015)
The United States Men’s National Team continues World Cup Qualifying when it takes a tough road trip to face Panama at 10 p.m. ET at the Estadio Rommell Fernandez. The USA is coming off a resounding 6-0 win over Honduras at home on Friday, which assuaged many concerns after the nightmare 0-2 start to the Hex. There are no easy road trips in CONCACAF, but Panama is an especially tough out.
The hosts will remember the last time USA visited Panama City, a dramatic 3-2 loss where two late goals, including a memorable Graham Zusi stoppage-time equalizer, knocked Panama out of the fourth spot in the Hex and a playoff against New Zealand for a chance to advance to the country’s first ever World Cup.
Despite the win on Friday, Bruce Arena will have his work cut out for him again, with the additional absences of Sebastian Lletget, John Brooks, Jordan Morris, and Michael Orozco. He has added Tijuana winger Paul Arriola into the squad.
What to watch for Panama
Panama sits in third place in the Hex with four points, but is coming off of a disappointing 1-0 loss at Trinidad and Tobago. Under head coach Hernan Dario Gomez, the country has played a hard-nosed, physical brand of soccer that should be able to deliver a first-ever appearance in the World Cup.
While former MLS Star and familiar face Blas Perez is out of the squad with injury, Panama still has all-time leading goal scorer Luis Tejada to lead the line up front, while Alberto Quintero, his club teammate at Universitario is a formidable right winger. Gabriel Torres, who played for the Colorado Rapids from 2013 to 2015, will join Tejada up top and is the most dynamic player in attack.
MLS fans will be familiar with central midfielders Armando Cooper, a teammate of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley at Toronto FC, and Anibal Godoy, a star at the San Jose Earthquakes. Seattle Sounders captain Roman Torres, who scored the winning penalty in the MLS Cup, anchors the backline. Expect Torres to lead the physical assault on the Americans’ attack to unsettle any attacking rhythm.
At home, Gomez will not want to sit back and let the Americans boss the game, even if his side is less talented on paper. While Gomez used a 4-5-1 against Trinidad and Tobago, he could switch to a more traditional 4-4-2 to try and get a goal and a positive result at home. In general, expect a cagey, South American-style approach from Los Canaleros, who will not roll over easily.
What to watch for the USA
Arena faces a few crucial squad dilemmas with fitness issues and key absences. Without John Brooks, whatever Arena wants to do with Geoff Cameron will shape his backline. If Cameron retains his role against Honduras at right back, Tim Ream could slot into the center alongside Omar Gonzalez. If Cameron moves centrally however, Graham Zusi could be tasked with reprising his role as a retrofitted fullback. Arena may also rotate DaMarcus Beasley in for Jorge Villafana at left back, and might reward young MLS standout Walker Zimmerman with a start over Gonzalez.
The USA is boosted by the return of midfielder Jermaine Jones after his one-match suspension, and with Lletget’s injury, Jones seems a natural fit alongside Bradley in the center of the park. If Arena stays with his 4-4-2 diamond formation then Darlington Nagbe should retain his spot on the left as Christian Pulisic should stay as the attacking central figure.
Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are likely to start up top, but Arena must monitor Dempsey’s fitness. The hat trick from the Texan was a stunning end to a long journey back to football, but after playing 90 minutes it might be hard to repeat an effective performance. It’s unlikely Arena would start Chris Wondowlowski as a second striker, but Jozy Altidore rarely thrives as a lone striker and needs constant service and support from his teammates.
In a hostile environment, the USA needs to find its footing early and then shape the match with possession and quality chances. Unless Panama attacks early and often out of its shell, the USA will again be tasked with breaking down a resolute defense, and one with considerable more bite than the Hondurans. This will be the new common theme for years to come, but Christian Pulisic will have to be ‘The Guy’ and use his tricky dribbling, inventive passing and calm finishing to make something happen. Altidore will have to, and should, get the better of Roman Torres, while Clint Dempsey might need to provide heroics to nick a goal if the game gets dicey. Jermaine Jones brings an extra X-factor to the squad and should help the Americans bulk up in a scrappy midfield contest. As always, Tim Howard brings a steady and reliable presence in goal.
What to expect
Panama will come out looking to right the ship after a lame showing on Friday and also to gain revenge for the most traumatic defeat in its history. Stack that on top of a normal road game in Central America and the Americans are looking at tough circumstances. Thankfully, they have the better squad and should have enough quality to earn a result, especially if their rejuvenation under Bruce Arena is any indication.
Prediction: 2-1 USA. A tricky match for the Americans, who so often are unable to build any consistency match-to-match. That should change under Arena, and they have enough firepower to get a huge three points on the road.