World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: Panama vs USA

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

Match Preview

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.

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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.

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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.

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Team News

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. 

Key Points

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.

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Score Prediction

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.

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World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: USA vs Honduras

Competition: Major League Soccer – USA vs. Honduras
Venue: Avaya Stadium – Friday, March 24th – 22:30 ET (02:30 GMT
Match Odds: USA 4/9 – Draw 14/5 – Honduras 13/2

Match Preview

The USA’s World Cup hopes are hanging precariously in the balance ahead of a huge qualifier against Honduras on Friday night at San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium in California, with Bruce Arena taking charge of his first competitive game since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann as the head coach.

Klinsmann’s final game in charge came in the US national team’s most recent qualification game – a devastating 4-0 loss at Costa Rica, leaving them bottom of the Hexagonal after two matches. A loss to Honduras on Friday would make it almost impossible for the USA to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in just over a year.

No team has ever qualified for the game’s biggest tournament after picking up just one point from their opening three Hexagonal matches, so not only do the US need to avoid defeat, they need to take the game to Honduras and breakdown what is expected to be a stern defensive setup.

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Los Catrachos sit fourth in the Hex after winning one and losing one so far. They opened with a surprise 1-0 home loss to Panama but picked up in their second game to beat Trinidad & Tobago 3-1.

They will be looking to follow that result up with at least another point in their first road game here. If they can avoid defeat to the US on Friday, the Hondurans will no doubt be feeling a lot more confident about their chances of playing in Russia next summer.

They have some dangerous attacking assets that MLS fans – and Houston Dynamo supporters in particular – will be familiar with already this season. Romell Quioto, Boniek Garcia and Alberth Elis can all create chances out of nothing and will be looking to hit an injury-stricken USA backline on the counter wherever possible.

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Bruce Arena has been dealt a few major injury blows in the lead up to this pivotal game, with Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson all sidelined. All three would have been expected to start and so adjustments will have to be made.

Add in the fact that Jermaine Jones is suspended and Jordan Morris is struggling with an ankle injury picked up in last Sunday’s win over the Red Bulls and it’s easy to start questioning the team’s chances of getting three points on the board.

That said, the US have more than enough depth to cover for the losses and have no fewer than 19 MLS players in the squad. All of them should be fresh as we’re only three weeks into the regular season and that could prove to be a major boost on the night. 

Christian Pulisic is also set to start his third-straight qualifier and the 18-year-old Dortmund star comes into the game high in confidence after starring in the Bundesliga and Champions League in recent weeks.

Victory is expected. A draw would leave the USMNT with an enormous task on their hands. But defeat would surely spell catastrophe for the nation’s hopes of qualifying. It’s an enormous game and one the hosts have to deliver in.

Team News

As mentioned above, Arena has been hit with a number of injuries to key players based in Europe. Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson are all out. Jordan Morris is a doubt, but could make an impact off the bench, while Jermaine Jones is suspended. Jozy Altidore looks certain to lead the attack, with Clint Dempsey in line for a return the starting lineup after recovering from his irregular heartbeat problem that ruled him out of action for the backend of 2016. It’s unclear how the defence will lineup but it’s likely we’ll see Geoff Cameron fill in at right-back, with John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez pairing up in the centre of defence and Jorge Villafaña operating down the left side.

Honduras will look to their MLS-based stars to shine brightly at Avaya Stadium on Friday. Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis offer devastating pace, while Maynor Figueroa and Roger Espinoza provide them with experienced defensive cover, and that will surely be needed as the USA have to take the game to the visitors.

Key Points

USA’s last five: D/L/L/D/W

Honduras’s last five: D/W/L/L/W

Key Stat: The USMNT have only lost one of their last 31 World Cup qualifiers on home soil, although that did come in their latest home game against Mexico back in November.

Key Player: Christian Pulisic – The Dortmund winger has been in excellent form over the last few weeks, scoring three times in five games in March. He is young enough to be able to handle the volume of games but will be tested with handling intense pressure in a huge game for his country on Friday night. He might only be 18, but Pulisic has already proven he is a special talent and will look to shine here.

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Score Prediction

USA 2-1 Honduras – This is likely to be an extremely nervy evening for USA supporters but one that should end in an all-important victory given the quality of the team. There are some key absentees but Bruce Arena has enough tools at his disposal to get the job done. Honduras will be a real threat on the counter but ultimately the hosts should pull through.