The Gregg Berhalter era has been underway for some time now, but for USMNT fans tonight’s friendly against Panama is the first chance to see what the new United States head coach has in store. After a preposterously long hiring process, Berhalter has just finished up his first January camp, and a slew of MLS-based players will hope they did enough to stay in the new boss’s plans once FIFA windows allow him to call in the full compliment of American players.
There’s also the significant work of rebuilding excitement and confidence relating to the USMNT program, which has spent the last year or so at a low point unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1980s. If there were any questions about that, ticket sales well below 10,000 as of yesterday underline the tall task facing both Berhalter’s team and the federation in general. The easiest way to get that ball rolling? Win, and win well.
Key player: Russell Canouse
It is no secret that the staff of this site has long been insisting that Canouse get his look in with the national team. Dave Sarachan didn’t get it, for reasons that remain utterly baffling, but Berhalter saw the obvious and called D.C. United’s midfield dynamo in. The next step for the Pennsylvania native is winning the battle for playing time in what is the deepest position in this camp. Even if we set aside Canouse’s club teammate Paul Arriola’s time spent as a #8 back in the late spring/early summer last year, there are six other players in camp with significant experience as either the deep man or linking player in defensive midfield.
Realistically, though, Canouse is probably battling Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp for minutes as the team’s most defensive-minded midfielder. He’s a different player than those two, who tend to hold their position and spread the ball around with longer-range passes. Canouse, on the other hand, is a superior ball-winning force who takes fewer chances on the ball.
It’s an interesting situation, because Berhalter values possession (which Canouse will help his team both by winning the ball and by completing a very high percentage of his passes), but also values the ability to spread the field out. Under normal circumstances, we could see him pair someone like Trapp with Canouse, but if that were the plan, he probably wouldn’t have also called in Cristian Roldan, Sebastian Lletget, and Marky Delgado.
We’ll see if one of United’s key players can overcome all these obstacles and get a richly-deserved first cap.
Location: State Farm Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected USMNT starting 11: (4231) - Zack Steffen; Reggie Cannon, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Daniel Lovitz; Wil Trapp, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Djordje Mihailovic, Corey Baird; Gyasi Zardes
Bench: Sean Johnson, Keegan Rosenberry, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Nick Lima, Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado, Cristian Roldan, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan Lewis, Jeremy Ebobisse, Christian Ramirez
US Soccer previously announced that Alex Bono, Tyler Miller, Justen Glad, and Kellyn Acosta were released from camp early, so this is the 23-man roster for tonight and to face Costa Rica on February 2nd. The lineup is a stab in the dark leaning mostly towards players with more international experience, but there’s also some personal bias in there with Canouse over Bradley or Roldan and Mihailovic (the rarest of gems, an American #10) over Lletget. I’d also prefer to see Ebobisse or Ramirez start up top, but I expect Zardes to get the nod instead.
Projected Panama starting 11: We don’t know! But, here’s their squad:
¡Los elegidos!— FEPAFUT (@fepafut) January 18, 2019
Estos son los 18 convocados por el DT Gary Stempel que conformarán nuestra selección #PanamáMayor para enfrentar el 27 de enero a @ussoccer_mnt en partido amistoso. #TodosSomosPanamá pic.twitter.com/pcZY1YdapE
What we can tell you is that this is not Panama’s A-team by any stretch. It’s a very young group, with no fewer than 11 uncapped players in the squad.
Available TV: ESPN2, UniMas, Univision Deportes
Available streaming: WatchESPN, ESPN+, Univision Now, Univision Deportes En Vivo
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
we our friends have to say about it?: Donald Wine II wrote up a preview at Stars and Stripes FC that you ought to read before this one gets going.
What are you drinking?: I’m going with Bell’s Lager of the Lakes tonight, along with some homemade chili and skillet corn bread. No matter how the game goes, I’ll be alright.
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