USMNT

Preview: USMNT v Panama

The US’s recent loss to Chile was not unexpected, but its form was all too familiar, with the US twice taking the lead, only for late goals by the opposition to turn a positive result pear-shaped. Since the World Cup, the US has gone an underwhelming 1-3-2, with the only win against the Czech Republic back in September.

While no one would argue that Jurgen Klinsmann, signed to a new contract before the summer, is on the hot seat, continued mediocrity already has fans and critics alike wondering what ails the US. Sunday’s match against Panama might provide a tonic, as the US has only lost to Panama once and is on a five-game winning streak against Los Canaleros.

Then again, lose the game and all bets are off.

Panama

As noted, the US has dominated this match-up, winning 11 of the 14 meetings between the two sides. A fellow member of CONCACAF, the US is very familiar with Panama, and has only once failed to score against them. Most recently, the US beat Panama twice in World Cup qualifying, memorably coming from behind, twice, to win in injury time the final qualifying game and thus send Mexico to the World Cup, too. Between those two games, the US also defeated Panama in the final of the Gold Cup.

Panama is not a bad side. In the region, it holds its own, finishing runners-up in the Gold Cup, as mentioned, and before that reaching the semifinal in 2011. In fact, since 2005, Panama has never failed to reach at least the quarterfinals. They’ve also done well in the Copa Centroamericana, winning in 2009, runners-up in 2007, and third place in 2011 and 2014.

It’s outside the region where they struggle, never having qualified for a World Cup. However, they do have some good players, with Jaime Penedo, Blas Perez, and Gaby Torres experienced MLS veterans.

US shape shifting

The 3-5-2 seen against Chile was an interesting wrinkle, though only effective for the first 20 or 30 minutes, with many players, including the defensive system’s lynchpin, Jermaine Jones, uncomfortable. While the offensive possibilities of the formation are intriguing, the gaps left defensively were vast. Yet, it seems the experiment is not over, with Klinsmann saying, “I think [the 3-5-2 is] definitely a card that we should have in our back pocket.”

However, it seems likely that 4-4-2 or the more familiar 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid that the US has played for most of Klinsmann’s tenure will be the formation of choice against Panama.

Nguyen steps in?

Lee Nguyen has yet to play significant minutes for the national side since his return to the fold. And, with Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud, and Clint Dempsey all locking down positions centrally, it seems unlikely he is in line to get a start inside. However, a start, even from the less-familiar environs of the wing, is surely in order based on his play.

Another goal for Jozy?

One of the real bright spots against Chile was to see Jozy Altidore continue his good form for the national team, scoring the second goal. Altidore’s move from a terrible situation in a major league (the EPL’s Sunderland) to an improving situation in a lesser league (MLS’s Toronto FC) has yet to even really begin, so there’s no telling how it will affect his sharpness for the national team. That said, his lack of form anywhere outside of a red, white, and blue jersey has been so total for the last 18 months, he has played with a palpable relief and lack of tension for the US. The smart money is on a another good performance and likely a goal on Sunday.

Prediction

The US has been decidedly meh for months. But playing at home against an opponent that has failed to beat the US on 13 of 14 attempts augurs very well indeed. The US should win. But more than that, the US needs a good performance. Two Januarys ago, the US was mired in a rut of poor results, but came out of camp and went on a run of a dozen straight wins, culminating in the Gold Cup triumph. A good showing on Sunday could jump-start the team back into winning ways. Perhaps this prediction is more projection than reasonable analysis, but the US wins, 3–0.

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