For the United States, Gold Cup group stage play usually involves one potentially tricky game out of the three. With all due respect to Nicaragua and Martinique, today’s game against Panama is unquestionably the most difficult for the USMNT as far as Group B goes. Los Canaleros don’t have many wins over the US historically, but meetings are almost always close and contentious. In 2015 - a disaster of a tournament for the Americans - Panama held the US to two draws (and took a lead in both matches).
As such, this is very likely a battle for first place coming out of the group. Group B’s winner will face one of the third place teams from the other groups (think Canada or El Salvador), while the runner-up will be playing the winner out of Group A (Costa Rica or Honduras, most likely). This game isn’t make or break for either side, but it will have a major impact on games that do fall into that category.
Key player: Dax McCarty
MLS fans have been calling for McCarty to get into the USMNT picture for years, and Bruce Arena has answered those demands with call-ups even for World Cup qualifying. On this roster, McCarty is the only experienced pure #6 in the squad. Kellyn Acosta and Cristian Roldan can do the job, but both are better partnering a more defensively-minded player at this point in their careers.
This is a huge opportunity for McCarty to cement his place as a regular call-up. It’s also a vital game in more narrow terms, as McCarty’s play in both directions will be a big part of what the US does today. Going forward, the USMNT will need someone to set a smart tempo, pushing Panama out of their comfort zone (i.e. a slow, choppy game) and allowing the Americans to hoard possession and tire their opponents. On the other side of the ball, McCarty will need to anticipate any counter-attacks early, while also keeping his composure against a team that loves to leave a little extra in every tackle.
Location: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)
Kickoff time: 4:30pm Eastern
Projected USA starting 11: (4231) - Brad Guzan; Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Jorge Villafaña; Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta; Paul Arriola, Joe Corona, Jordan Morris; Dom Dwyer
Bench: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Matt Hedges, Justin Morrow, Cristian Roldan, Alejandro Bedoya, Kelyn Rowe, Chris Pontius, Gyasi Zardes, Juan Agudelo
Personally, I think I’d rather see a 442 with Arriola and one of Rowe or Pontius inverted, allowing Agudelo to pair with Dwyer. However, I think this is where Arena is going to go with things. I’m pretty sure about Gonzalez replacing Hedges from the side that beat Ghana 2-1, while I’m a little less sure about Morris on the left side. It could also be Rowe, or Pontius, or even Agudelo.
Projected Panama starting 11: (442) - Jose Calderon; Michael Amir Murillo, Jan Carlos Vargas, Roberto Chen, Luis Ovalle; Edgar Barcenas, Anibal Godoy, Gabriel Gomez, Miguel Camargo; Ismael Diaz, Gabriel Torres
This isn’t a completely first-choice Panamanian side - Roman Torres of the Seattle Sounders, for example, is not on the roster - but it’s still pretty close to the real thing. Expect an extremely combative showing, as Panama is never easy to play against. Keep an eye on Diaz, who is a key player in the making at just 20 years old. And you might remember him, as he started for Tauro FC when D.C. United faced them in the CCL a couple years ago.
This is not actually a projected lineup, either, as Hernan Dario Gomez announced his eleven in a press conference yesterday:
¡Bolillo confirma el XI de Panamá vs USA a RPC! Calderón; Murillo, Vargas, Chen, Ovalle; Bárcenas, Gavilán, Godoy, Camargo, Ismael y Gaby. pic.twitter.com/4pkML91NPv— Deportes RPC (@deportesrpc) July 7, 2017
Available TV: Fox (i.e. regular, over-the-air Fox), Univision, Univision Deportes
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Univision Now, Univision Deportes app
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: I will be in the press box at the Soccerplex when this one kicks off, so it’ll just be a bottle of water.
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