Competition: 2018 World Cup Qualifier – Panama vs. USA
Venue: Estadio Rommel Fernández – Tuesday, March 28 – 22:00 ET (03:00 BST)
Match Odds: Panama 12/5 – Draw 11/5 – USA 21/20
Panama host the USA in a crucial World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night, with just one place and one point separating the sides going into the fourth round of fixtures in a fiercely competitive Hexagonal.
Panama are one of CONCACAF’s toughest sides to break down. They lost 1-0 to Trinidad on Friday night, with Kevin Molino’s goal the only strike they have conceded in three qualifiers so far.
They opened the Hex with a 1-0 win at Honduras and followed it up by holding Mexico to a 0-0 draw at home. Panama have never qualified for a World Cup but sit just three points off Mexico going into Tuesday’s games and know that they will remain on track if they can avoid defeat against the USA.
That will be no easy task, given how the US men’s national team dismantled Honduras at Avaya Stadium on Friday night. The manner of the 6-0 win in Bruce Arena’s first competitive game since taking over as head coach once again in November was unexpected but incredibly impressive.
Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey tore the Honduran defence apart, while Michael Bradley thrived in the lone defensive-midfield role, even grabbing a goal himself as the USA sent out a statement of intent to their CONCACAF rivals.
Few changes are expected for Tuesday’s trip to Panama City and the aim will be for the US to try and score early to force the hosts to come forward. Their approach worked perfectly against Honduras and will surely be adopted once again here.
The challenge will now be to follow that result up with another strong performance as they look to move into the top three of the Hex. Tuesday’s game will be the last qualifier until June so Arena knows the team must leave Panama with at least a point.
The USA have never lost a World Cup qualifier to Panama but have not beaten them in their last two meetings, both coming in the 2015 Gold Cup with the Panamanians beating the USMNT on penalties in the 3rd place playoff.
MLS fans will be familiar with a number of faces in the Panama lineup on Tuesday. Former LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo will be looking to keep the US out, helped by Seattle’s stalwart Roman Torres. Toronto’s Armando Cooper will likely play alongside San Jose’s Anibal Godoy in midfield, with former Quakes teammate Alberto Quintero looking to cause trouble from out wide. Former MLS strikers Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres will be looking to make an impact, but it will likely have to come from the bench.
Bruce Arena will have to change his starting lineup as Sebastian Lletget and John Brooks are both at home dealing with injuries picked up on Friday. Jordan Morris has left the squad as his ankle problem means he can’t take to the field, so he’s returned to Seattle for treatment. Alejandro Bedoya is likely to come into the starting lineup in place of Lletget, while Jermaine Jones is available again after serving his suspension and might get a start.
Panama’s last five: W/L/W/W/L
USA’s last five: L/L/D/W/W
Key Stat: Panama have gone nine games without conceding more than a single goal in a match. They have only let in four goals in those nine games.
Key Player: Clint Dempsey – Fresh from scoring a hat-trick in Friday’s 6-0 demolition over Honduras, Dempsey will be looking to fire the USA to a second consecutive win in an equally important game. He has found the net in two of the last three meetings with Panama and will expect to cause their solid defence some serious problems on Tuesday.
Panama 1-1 USA – This looks set to be a much trickier contest than Friday night’s for the USMNT but they will not expect to leave Panama with anything less than a point. They have the quality to beat Panama but have been tied at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes the last two times they have faced them and might just have to settle for the same result here in what is a vital game for both sides.