World Cup qualifying has not gone according to the USMNT’s plan. A poor start under Jurgen Klinsmann left the United States with a lot of work to do, and a misstep last month has left them in 4th place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. Tonight against Panama, who sit directly in front of them in the final direct qualification spot, the stakes are just short of winner-take-all. If the U.S. can’t take care of business on home soil this time, a playoff against Australia or Syria may be the best they can hope for.
Key player: Geoff Cameron
Most previews are all about a certain Borussia Dortmund wonderboy, but let’s be honest: Christian Pulisic is not the player we need to worry about today. He should be fine, particularly if Bruce Arena lets him play centrally. The spot American fans need to focus on is at center back, where no one has played well since John Brooks went down injured in the first week of the Bundesliga season.
Cameron is the highest-profile of the group, so we’ll hone in on the Stoke City man. Cameron’s passing out of the back has usually been good for the USMNT, but during the last round of qualifiers he couldn’t get away from costly turnovers. Panama will look to stay solid and organized while hoping for mistakes to pounce on, so Cameron (or any other U.S. center back) being unreliable on the ball simply can’t happen. American World Cup hopes may be riding on Cameron producing a good performance.
Location: Orlando City Stadium (Orlando, FL)
Kickoff time: 7:35pm Eastern
Projected USMNT starting 11: (4231) - Tim Howard; DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Jorge Villafaña; Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta; Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe; Jozy Altidore
Bench: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, DaMarcus Beasley, Dax McCarty, Alejandro Bedoya, Benny Feilhaber, Juan Agudelo, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood
There’s a lot of 352 talk floating around, so we can’t count that out, but I think Arena tends towards the familiar whenever possible. That leaves 4231 or a 442 diamond as the ways to field Pulisic in his best position, and I’m expecting 4231 to start. However, if Arena does opt for a 352, look for Gonzalez to be the third center back, Wood to come in as the second forward, and for Arriola and Nagbe to make way. There’s also a strong chance that Bedoya starts ahead of Acosta, who hasn’t been at his best recently.
Arena’s initial squad of 25 will require choosing to leave two players out. Michael Orozco and Chris Wondolowski seem to be the best candidates for that, but it’s possible that Agudelo and/or Feilhaber are left out instead. Which is...sigh.
The full USMNT roster can be found here.
Projected Panama starting 11: (4411) - Jaime Penedo; Adolfo Machado, Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar, Luis Ovalle; Armando Cooper, Anibal Godoy, Gabriel Gomez, Alberto Quintero; Gabriel Torres; Luis Tejada
Hernan Dario Gomez has shown some willingness to tinker with his formation, so this 4411 could become a 442, or a 541, or a 4231. However, this 4411 seems like the most likely base for them to play out of. Machado, normally a center back with the Houston Dynamo, could give way to Michael Murillo if Gomez is worried about his team’s overall lack of speed. Veteran Jaime Penedo, back from injury, will probably replace Jose Calderon in goal.
Los Canaleros have a ton of experience on the field, with eight starters over 29 years of age. They’re also well-versed in American soccer, with five of the above projected starters currently playing in MLS. The only starter listed above without MLS experience is Ovalle, the Colombia-based left back.
Referee: Roberto Garcia Orozco (Mexico)
Available TV: ESPN2, Univision
Available streaming: WatchESPN, ESPN3, Univision Deportes, Univision Now
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: I’m dealing with a bit of a cold, so I’m not entirely sure. If I’m feeling OK come this afternoon, I’ll probably have a beer. If not, I might need some hot tea both to soothe my throat and to provide some caffeine.
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