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USMNT vs. Panama, NWSL playoffs, and more: Freedom Kicks for 10/6/2017

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Good luck trying to think about work today

Most of the time, Friday is the calm before the storm, and my link choices are more about what’s coming down the road rather than what’s right in our collective faces. Today, though, with the USMNT facing an enormously important World Cup qualifier against Panama, and the US under-17s kicking off the World Cup in India, I feel like we’re right in the thick of things.

Let’s jump in:

USMNT World Cup qualification scenarios | Stars and Stripes FC
A familiar face put together this handy guide to all of the possibilities for the United States in the next two games. Better keep it handy, because this might get complicated.

U.S.'s Christian Pulisic 'not going to change' style in face of multiple fouls | ESPNFC
Spoiler: Christian Pulisic is going to get kicked a lot tonight.

US national team say versatile three-man defense possible vs. Panama | MLSsoccer.com
The USMNT is in a bit of a spot when it comes to formations. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood both seem better off with a partner, while Christian Pulisic has done his best work with the national team in the middle. That opens the door for a 352 (or 442 diamond), but does the US want to field a formation where center back, their weakest position in this Hex, is put to even more of a test?

Bruce Arena’s choice in this matter may well determine whether we’re talking about a World Cup, a playoff, or nothing at all in the coming weeks.

Armchair Analyst: Tactical preview of USMNT vs. Panama World Cup qualifier | MLSsoccer.com
Matt Doyle points out how the need to play Pulisic in a central role dovetails nicely with the best way to open Panama - who will be very compact and very quick to set up their two banks of four - up. It also means choosing between a 352 or 4231, which in turn means dropping one of Altidore and Wood, and also leaves no natural spot for Clint Dempsey. We’ve got a problem where we have more talent than in the past, but the talent doesn’t fit together all that well.

U.S. vs. Panama: Panama Scouting Report | Stars and Stripes FC
Here’s more on what to expect out of Panama, who view tonight’s game as the biggest in their soccer history.

Roses and Thorns: the One for All the Marbles | Stumptown Footy
Today’s qualifiers aren’t the only big games to prep for. The NWSL semifinals start tomorrow, with the Portland Thorns hosting the Orlando Pride. Between Orlando’s form over the past couple of months and Portland’s 2016 semifinal loss at home, Thorns fans are just a bit nervous.

Three Reasons the Orlando Pride Will Win the NWSL Championship | The Mane Land
Down in Orlando, Pride fans are characteristically bullish about their chances. If they get through Portland, they’re hosting the final next Saturday.

Roses in the Wind: What could be, must wait | Hot Time In Old Town
The Chicago Red Stars figured they were going to play Portland a week after finishing the regular season up against them, and opted to rest most of their key starters. The resulting 3-1 loss, plus a last-gasp Orlando winner over the weekend, meant the Red Stars will face the North Carolina Courage (who are the defending champs, sort of, and the NWSL Shield winners).

Sounds daunting, but no team has troubled the Courage more than Chicago. Rory Dames may have played his cards just right here.

Team chemistry the X factor for the North Carolina Courage | Excelle Sports
What defines North Carolina? Ask them, and they’ll tell you it’s all about team spirit. Being far and away the league’s most athletic team probably doesn’t hurt either.

The final NWSL team of the month came out. No Washington Spirit players made it (September was rough). Personally I think Mallory Pugh did more than enough to get in, but I’m not the only voter.

Revealed: MLS salaries for players signed during the summer | Washington Post
Some of these are quite low due to the vagaries of mid-year signings being pro-rated for cap purposes, and other machinations designed to keep teams within the salary budget. As such, next April’s salary release will probably tell us a lot more as far as D.C. United is concerned.

The Missing Years: U.S. Soccer’s Development Gap | American Soccer Now
Clear some time today for this one. Brian Sciaretta tries to tackle why American players born in the early 90s (i.e. guys that should be hitting their peak right now) have had such a minor impact on the USMNT.

FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying: Syria hold Australia to draw after controversial late penalty | Sydney Morning Herald
The Asian playoff to get into the CONCACAF/AFC playoff is still up for grabs after Syria managed a late goal in their “home” leg (the game was actually played in Malaysia). Be sure to watch the video that comes up here, which shows the non-incident that became Syria’s penalty kick.

Clinching their spots in Russia 2018 yesterday: England (via a 94th minute goal from Harry Kane) and Germany (who have a perfect record and a +35 goal difference after 9 rounds in UEFA’s Group C).

Elsewhere, Argentina’s hopes of even making the intercontinental playoff are hanging by a thread after a home 0-0 draw against Peru. Messi and co. must either win their final game and see one of Chile, Colombia, or Peru lose in the final set of games, or get a draw and hope for either a) a Peru loss or b) a 2+ goal loss for Chile or Colombia. My advice: find a soccer bar showing both USA-T&T and CONMEBOL’s qualifiers Tuesday night, because it’s going to be crazy.