PREVIEW: USA - PANAMA
After securing a vital road win against Jamaica on Friday, the U.S. National Team hosts Panama for the second of three qualifiers this month.
CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington will be the venue for tonight's clash, and the U.S. is riding a wave of momentum while Panama, one point behind in the standings, will try to forget Friday's frustrating tie with Mexico.
Jurgen Klinsmann started the same lineup against Jamaica as he did against Germany, making it the first time in his tenure that two consecutive games featured the same starting 11. He will not have the luxury of three in a row against Panama, as Jermaine Jones has been ruled out as a precaution after taking a head injury against Jamaica, and Graham Zusi is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Likewise, Panama will be without one of their vital players in Blas Perez, who could not travel due to a stomach illness. The FC Dallas striker has played in all 14 of Panama's Qualifiers in this campaign, scoring nine goals. With Perez unavailable against the U.S., it will be up to Toluca's Luis Tejada to carry the offense against the better but still shaky U.S. defense.
After the success in Kingston, it seems likely that Klinsmann will go with the same back four, but with the two injuries in midfield, there will be difficult choices to make. Geoff Cameron replaced Jones after the German-American's injury, which seems to indicate that Klinsmann prefers Cameron over Sacha Kljestan to pair with Michael Bradley, but Joe Corona could also be an option, fully rested from the end of the Mexican season and Tijuana's Copa Libertadores run. Regardless, the complexion in midfield is going to be vastly different without Jones' enforcing his will on the Panamanian game.
On offense, expect little to change as Jozy Altidore struck for the second consecutive game, and Clint Dempsey is at full health. Without the availability of Herculez Gomez due to a knee contusion, it will fall to Terrence Boyd to be the lone forward option off the bench, if Eddie Johnson fills in for Zusi on the flank.
While the Seattle atmosphere won't be the same as it is for Sounders games, it will still be a crowd approaching 40,000 people, dominated by home fans. For the first qualifying game in Seattle in almost four decades, it will be a memorable affair for the spectators regardless of the outcome. But with the newly installed grass facing scrutiny from the players, it could turn to be a bad memory if the American defense doesn't hold strong. Even without Perez, the Panamanians still present a threat, having scored in 11 of their 14 qualifying games, and losing only once.
If Mexico and Costa Rica end in a tie, the winner of this game will vault to the top of the standings while the loser misses out on a key opportunity to distance themselves from fifth-place Honduras.
The game kicks off at 9:30pm EST, with weather forecasts showing temperatures in the low 60s and the skies to be partly cloudy during game time.