US-Panama preview: US could miss out on 1st World Cup since ’86

It’s crunch time now. It’s do or die. Everything is on the line. This is not really the place the USMNT wanted to be in or thought they’d find themselves in, but here they are: in danger of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986. The good news is that the US controls its own fate and four points out of six should see the US qualify without having to go into a home and home playoff with a team from Asia in November (though results elsewhere in CONCACAF could change that). The two opponents for these massive fixtures: at home to Panama and away to Trinidad & Tobago.

The last round of World Cup Qualifiers was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Bruce Arena and the USMNT. But the manger appears to be doubling down on some of the players that were in that camp. The US roster for this round of World Cup Qualifiers was released on Sunday and the biggest surprise was the omission of Fabian Johnson, who seems to have fallen out of favor with Arean. Also not included was John Brooks who is still on the road back from injury. But all of the MLS regulars are in there: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, DaMarcus Beasley, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Darlington Nagbe, Dax McCarty, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Chris Wondolowski. Surprise inclusions were Juan Agudelo and Benny Feilhaber (who after years of hatred for Jurgen Klinsmann, expressed surprise at Arena calling him up for such massive games). And of course the two best players this Hex are there as well: 19 year old wunderkind Christian Pulisic (subject of a recent piece on 60 minutes) and Bobby Wood (who quite possibly saved the US’ chances at going to the World Cup with a late equalizer against Honduras last month).

In the media at least, Arena seems to be pulling out all the stops. He’s used quotes like “We will not fail.” Former US manager Bob Bradley has also been spotted at the US training sessions. It’s quite possible that the US has not faced pressure quite like this ever. Fox Sports pundit Alexi Lalas went on a now infamous rant after the last round of qualifiers that went after everybody from Tim Howard to Michael Bradley to Jozy Altidore to “even you Wonderboy.” It cannot be understated how bad it would be for the game in this country for the US to miss out on the World Cup. Failure here, is not an option. It all gets started against Panama.

Panama has become an incredibly painful thorn in the side of the US over the last six years. Prior to the 2011 Gold Cup the US had never lost to Panama but the times are changing and that record no longer stands. In that time the US has played Panama eleven times, which is more than any other opponent (Mexico comes in at second with ten). As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt and the last few US/Panama games have seen their fair share of rough play. Given that a number of the US players play against the Panamanian mainstays in MLS, there’s even more familiarity and bad blood. Panama’s roster includes just about everybody that the US is used to seeing. Jaime Penedo in goal, Roman Torres and Gelipe Baloy on the back line, Gabriel Gomez and Anibal Godoy in the midfield and the ageless duo of Blas Perez and Luis Tejada, plus Gabriel Torres on the frontline.

Notes:

• The last four games between the US and Panama have all ended in 1-1 draws.

• Clint Dempsey needs just one goal to become the US’s all-time leading goal scorer (he and Landon Donovan are tied at 57).

• The current Hex standings are as follows: Mexico (18 points), Costa Rica (15 points), Panama (10 points), USA (9 points), Honduras (9 points), Trinidad & Tobago (3 points). Reminder that the top three teams automatically qualify for Russia 2018 while the fourth place team would go into a playoff against the fifth place team from Asia.

When and where to watch the US game on US television and streaming

Friday, October 6, 2017
Orlando City Stadium
Orlando, FL
7pm ET
Live on ESPN2, Univision, Univision Deportes, ESPN3, DIRECTV NOW, Sling Orange and fuboTV (7-day free trial)

All-Time Series

USA leads 11-1-6

Last Meeting

7/8/17
Nissan Stadium
Nashville, TN
USA – 1
Panama – 1

Current FIFA Ranking

USA: 28
Panama: 60

Next Game:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
World Cup Qualifying
Trinidad and Tobago vs. USA
Ato Boldon Stadium
Couva, Trinidad & Tobago

SEE MORE: Schedule of World Cup qualifiers on US TV and streaming

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