Paul Arriola -- Close Up -- USA Gold Cup Final

ORLANDO, Fla. – The US national team may be playing their most important World Cup qualifying game in recent times, and are expecting a home field advantage when they host Panama on Friday at Orlando City Stadium (7 pm ET; ESPN2, Univision, UDN).


Two games remain in the Hex for the USMNT. Their home record, however, doesn’t seem so promising, with a 2-2-0 record in their four Hex games as the home team.


But midfielder Benny Feilhaber was quick to dismiss that, saying the only thing that matters is winning on Friday, especially at home, to secure qualification to the 2018 World Cup.


“We have to win at home against Panama to get into third place and secure it with the last game,” said Feilhaber. “Obviously, a lot of topsy-turvy in these last eight games, but we have a chance to rectify all that with two games. Obviously, important but we keep our focus as we have been.”


Players from the USMNT have expressed the urgency of winning against the Panamanians on Friday, but also emphasized the importance of having a pro-American crowd in Orlando.


“I know I am. I know from watching MLS games, the Orlando crowd is great, and I’m sure to expect nothing less on Friday,” said defender DeAndre Yedlin. “I think they’ll come out and be loud and support us and that will be big for us as players.”


The Yanks fell 2-0 to Costa Rica last month at Red Bull Arena in a game which featured a sizable contingent of Ticos fans.


While some players expressed hopes of seeing a home field advantage with the crowd, US head coach Bruce Arena was subtle, yet honest, when analyzing the crowd at Red Bull Arena to the potentially pro-American crowd in Orlando.


“Well if you saw our last game in New York, it didn’t translate as well,” said Arena earlier this week. “We’re hopeful this is a massive crowd that’s supporting the US team.”


For midfielder Paul Arriola, it will be his first time playing at Orlando City Stadium, and he is expecting the USMNT to feel the love from the crowd in Central Florida.


“I’m expecting for [Friday] to be a home game,” said Arriola. “We’re in the United States and in New Jersey there was quite a bit of Costa Ricans, so this time I hope it’s filled up with all Americans that come out and it’s a great crowd because that’s a big motivation for us.”