On Tuesday night in Seattle, the U.S. Men’s National Team faces Panama in the second of three World Cup Qualifiers (10pm: ESPN, UniMas). Last Friday, the U.S. got a thrilling stoppage-time winner from Brad Evans to leave Jamaica with its first World Cup Qualifying win there ever, and will face Honduras on June 18 at Rio Tinto stadium in Utah to finish this group of games.
Against Jamaica, the U.S. played either controlled or without urgency, depending on your point of view. The step-up in tempo to win the game after giving up a tying goal was encouraging, but the nature of the equalizing goal was all-too-familiar, and many U.S. watchers were hoping for a more dominant performance.
Playing at home these next two games, U.S. fans will hope to see the swashbuckling offensive play that grabbed three goals against Germany and two against Jamaica, without the defensive frailty that gave up three goals to those teams.
Graham Zusi’s play of late has, by and large, muted calls for Landon Donovan’s reinstatement to the senior squad. Zusi has also been instrumental in the resurgence of Jozy Altidore, providing the assists on both of Altidore’s two recent goals. Unfortunately, Zusi will miss the Panama game due to yellow card accumulation. With no Donovan in the team, there is no like-for-like replacement available. Sacha Kljestan, Brad Davis, and Eddie Johnson seem like the most viable, but none replicate what Zusi does, so the shape of the team will change.
Jermaine Jones tweeted on Sunday that he would not be playing, having suffered a concussion during the game away to Jamaica. Geoff Cameron may retain his midfield place, or Kljestan could again come into the center. Danny Williams has returned to his club team for fitness reasons, and is unavailable.
Studs or turf shoes?
What do you wear when you’re playing on grass on top of turf? Seattle’s famed rainy weather means that the CenturyLink field is turf, but a temporary sod surface has been laid over top of the artificial grass. Reports on the quality of that sod have not been good, though it remains to be seen how it will affect play.
Historically, Panama has been a middling regional power, and nothing more. Runners up for the 2005 Gold Cup and winners of the 2009 Copa Centroamericana, Panama has never qualified for a World Cup.
Panama comes into the game having secured a draw against Mexico on Friday. On paper, that is a good result, but Mexico has been generally poor in the Hexagonal so far, and the game was played in a dolorous rain. While the result is good, it says little about Panama’s quality.
Panama will also be without one of their best players, FC Dallas striker Blas Pérez, who is suffering from gastroentritis. His absence could be critical.
In short, the U.S. is a better team than Panama. Assuming it plays like it, with the game at home, the U.S. should win. Of course, this team has done nothing if not make things interesting. Still, with no Perez to worry the defense, the U.S. takes this one, 2–0.