Panama vs. USA
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 9:30 pm ET
Estadio Rommel Fernández, Ciudad de Panama
Watch on beIN Sport
The US national team find themselves in essentially the ideal position they could've hoped to attain when the CONCACAF Hexagonal was drawn up a year ago: both a World Cup slot and top spot in the Hex secured with a game to spare, able to travel to hostile Panama City on matchday 10 with nothing more on the line than internal competition and basic sportsmanship.
Conversely, Panama must defeat the Yanks to have any chance of slipping past Mexico en route to fourth place and the right to play New Zealand for a trip to Brazil 2014. A plucky group who've climbed closer to a World Cup than any of their predecessors – only to find themselves one agonizing step short – Los Canaleros will be desperate on Tuesday night and so will their increasingly devoted fans.
Panama's hopes would seem to have been boosted now that US coach Jurgen Klinsmann has finally bowed to pragmatism and sent several of his top players home to their expectant clubs. But providing new opportunities to reserves can actually lead to livelier opposition, as the Yanks who do get the call will be hungry to show their value.
The USMNT hold a 10-1-2 overall record against their Central American adversaries, with Panama's only win occurring in the early phases of the 2011 Gold Cup – a 2-1 result in Tampa, Fla. that remains the country's only group-stage defeat in the modern formulation of the event. That setback was avenged later in the same tournament with a US victory in the knockout rounds. The USA boast a 2-0-1 all-time mark in Panama City.
Despite Klinsmann's earlier insistence that his team would charge ahead at full strength until the final kick of the Hex, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler have all departed the USMNT camp and the team will field a somewhat experimental starting XI in Panama as a result.
Klinsmann already signaled that Brad Guzan will mind the nets, while Clarence Goodson will start in Besler's place, probably alongside Geoff Cameron – though Michael Orozco may also be in contention at center back. Don't be surprised if DaMarcus Beasley and his twitchy hamstring are given a rare rest and Edgar Castillo, lively off the bench against Jamaica on Friday, steps in at left back.
With auditions taking place all over the field, the most intriguing might be in central midfield, where some combination of Kyle Beckerman, Sacha Kljestan and Mix Diskerud will constitute a sort of chemistry experiment under adverse conditions provided by a hard-pressing Panama.
While coach Julio Dely Valdés has assembled what is likely the best team in Panamanian soccer history, he can only dream of the depth on offer in the US camp. Thus he will carry on with much the same core lineup that has starred for La Marea Roja throughout this cycle, one that has a dash of MLS flavor thanks to LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, talismanic veteran Blas Pérez and Colorado Rapids DP Gabriel Torres.
Hulking defender Felipe Baloy will be a pivotal presence at the heart of defense, while Luis “El Matador” Tejada is a mercurial attacking presence who fizzled in his brief 2007 stint at Real Salt Lake but is eminently capable of scoring outlandishly good goals.
On Tuesday both Panama and their guests should not be offended when the home fans intermittently cast their attention north to San José, Costa Rica, where a Mexican loss to Los Ticos would open the door for Los Canaleros to snatch fourth place in the Hex with a defeat of the USMNT. Both games will kick off simulteneously.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Brad Guzan
The longtime understudy to Tim Howard has already shown his value to the USMNT with two clean-sheet displays against Costa Rica and Mexico in March, when Howard was sidelined by injury. Now Guzan has been presented with another opportunity to state his case as more than just an insurance policy. Backstopping a relatively green US squad in a raucous road qualifier against a desperate opponent should give him ample occasions to do so.
PANAMA – Blas Pérez
Talented, crafty and committed, the FC Dallas striker epitomizes his country's spirit of “juega vivo” (which loosely translates as alertness or cunning) and its resourceful national team. His bruising hold-up play and finishing nous provide the tip of the Canaleros' spear and with Torres running off him, there will be plenty of vectors to track for the visitors' backline. Can Pérez find the goals that his side require?
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana/Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla/Mexico)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
GOALKEEPERS: Jaime Penedo (LA Galaxy), Luis Mejía (Fénix/Uruguay), Alex Rodríguez (Sporting San Miguelito/Panama)
DEFENDERS: Felipe Baloy (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Luis Henríquez (Lech Poznan/Poland), Román Torres (Millonarios/Colombia), Harold Cummings (Árabe Unido/Panama), Carlos Rodríguez (Chepo/Panama), Leonel Parris (Tauro/Panama), Roberto Chen (Málaga/Spain), Jairo Jiménez (Elche/Spain), Eduardo Dasent (Tauro/Panama)
MIDFIELDERS: Alberto Quintero (Lobos BUAP/Mexico), Gabriel Gómez (San Francisco/Panama), Aníbal Godoy (Budapest Honvéd/Hungary), Marcos Sánchez (Tauro/Panama), Eybir Bonaga (San Francisco/Panama), Juan de Díos Pérez (Tauro/Panama), Alcibíades Rojas (Sporting San Miguelito/Panama)