The United States Men’s National Team is ready to play in the Yanks’ first ever game in the brand new Orlando City Stadium. With just two games remaining in the Hex, and the Americans sitting in fourth place, one point behind Panama, tonight’s game is a must win for both the U.S. and Panama.
This will be the fourth U.S. Men’s National Team game ever played in Orlando, with all of the previous three games taking place in the Citrus Bowl and all being friendlies. It first played in Orlando in 1992 against Australia and then a year later in 1993 against Russia. Both of those matches ended in 1-0 losses. The USMNT’s first, and only, victory in Orlando came in 1998 against Sweden, again in a 1-0 scoreline.
It seems like years since the beginning of the Hex, and the Yanks have had as many ups and downs as ever. Starting out with two losses to Mexico and Costa Rica cost former manager Jurgen Klinsmann his job. Bruce Arena was named the new boss and dubbed the savior of American soccer by some fans and media.
Under Arena, the U.S. quickly rose through the standings but with another loss to Costa Rica and a draw in Honduras, while Panama trashed Trinidad and Tobago, Arena is in a similar circumstance as his predecessor. Barring an upset in Trinidad on Tuesday, a win tonight means the U.S. books its ticket to Russia. A loss, on the other hand, would send the Yanks into a playoff and Panama is off to Russia with a top-three finish. Things get more complex with a draw, with the U.S. needing a win Tuesday and a Panama loss to Costa Rica to leap into the automatic qualifying spot.
Luckily for the Americans, history is on their side against Los Canaleros. The U.S. leads the all-time series, 12-1-6, and is undefeated in qualifiers, going 5-0-2. The previous head-to-head meeting in the Hex this cycle, however, ended in a 1-1 draw in Panama City. In that game Clint Dempsey scored the opening goal, but Panama’s Gabriel Gomez equalized four minutes later to end the first half.
While history favors the U.S., recent history sides towards Panama. The last time that the Yanks beat Los Canaleros was in the historic 3-2 win in 2013. Two U.S. stoppage time goals knocked Panama out of the World Cup. Four years later, the Panamanians definitely have this in the back of their minds and will be looking for revenge.
One thing to look for is Dempsey to finally break Landon Donovan’s all-time goal record. Both Donovan and Dempsey currently sit at 57, and the U.S. will need Dempsey to be at his best to ensure a victory in Orlando. While Dempsey is tied for the most international goals, he is alone on the top of the U.S.’s leaderboard in qualifying caps and goals, with 41 and 18, respectively.
Heading into tonight's game, the Americans have nine players on caution watch. If Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey or DeAndre Yedlin receive a card tonight they will miss the final qualifier in Trinidad.
Some notable names could make their World Cup qualifier debut tonight. Chris Wondolowski (35 total caps), Nick Rimando (22 total caps), Juan Agudelo (26 total caps), and Dax McCarty (12 total caps) are the only players that Arena called up that have not played in a qualifier, but all have experience in the national team setup.
Predicted U.S. Lineup
With two huge games to end the qualifying cycle there are no guaranteed positions right now. Arena will play who looks best in this moment, both for their respective club teams and in camp. Also in question is the formation that Arena will go with, as he tends to change it depending on the opposition.
Because Panama just needs one point and it is away from home, Los Canaleros will most likely play a defensive game. Combined with the U.S.’s personnel, Arena should come out attacking. Panama will sit back, absorb the pressure and try to hit the Yanks on the counter attack. The U.S. cannot afford to force anything and needs to be comfortable on the ball.
Based on this and the players in camp, Arena will most likely send out what is a 4-4-2 on paper. The Yanks will flood the middle of the field with Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic, while DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafaña will get up and down the wings. While in possession it could look more like a 3-4-3, with Dempsey getting into the attacking line, but defensively there will be four defenders and Bradley sitting in the hole to stop the counters.
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund).
Goalkeepers: José Calderón (Marathón), Jaime Penedo (Dynamo Bucharest).
Defenders: Felipe Baloy (Municipal), Érick Davis (Dunajská Streda), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Luis Ovalle (Deportes Tolima), Román Torres (Seattle Sounders FC), Jan Carlos Vargas (Tauro).
Midfielders: Édgar Bárcenas (Tapachula), Ricardo Buitrago (Juan Aurich), Armando Cooper (Toronto FC), Aníbal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gòmez (Atlético Bucaramanga), José González (Árabe Unido), Alberto Quintero (Universitario).
Forwards: Abdiel Arroyo (Danubio), Roberto Nurse (Zacatecas), Blas Pérez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Universitario), Gabriel Torres (Lausanna-Sport).
How to Watch:
Match Time: 7 p.m. ET.
Venue: Orlando City Stadium — Orlando, FL.
TV: ESPN2, Univision & UDN
Streaming: watchESPN, Fubo TV
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