The United States Men’s National Team faces a tough task as it takes on Panama in the penultimate game of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Los Canaleros enter the match with a 3-2 record in their last five, although those two loses were 1-0 games against Mexico and Costa Rica. Panama’s all-time record against the USMNT is 1-11-6, but has never beaten the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier. Despite Panama’s struggles against the USMNT, this team is more than capable of winning.
Goalkeepers (2): José Calderón (Marathón), Jaime Penedo (Dynamo Bucharest)
Defenders (8): 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), Jan Carlos Vargas (Tauro)
Midfielders (7): 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 (5): Abdiel Arroyo (Danubio), Roberto Nurse (Zacatecas), Blas Pérez (Municipal), Luis Tejada (Universitario), Gabriel Torres (Lausanna-Sport)
Expect head coach Hernan Dario Gomez to employ a defensive style. I’m expecting him to use a 4-5-1, although he may opt for a 4-4-2.
Jaime Penedo should get the nod in goal. He missed September qualifiers due to injury, but is back and healthy. Jose Calderon did an admirable job standing in for Penedo, but Penedo is simply the better keeper.
The backline will be anchored by captain Felipe Baloy. The 36-year-old veteran is an imposing physical presence who is dominant in the air. Baloy lacks the pace he once had and could be exposed by the USMNT’s faster players. Seattle Sounder Roman Torres will likely partner Baloy. Torres is a very similar player to Baloy, except he is a better 1 v. 1 defender.
Left back is a toss up between Erick Davis and Luis Ovalle. Ovalle started in Panama’s two September qualifiers and should feature in this match. He has good pace and is excellent at timing his infrequent runs forward. Ovalle struggles with 1 v. 1 defending and will be the weak link in the Panama backline. Michael Murillo should get the nod at right back. Despite his inconsistent performances, Murillo has been a regular starter for the New York Red Bulls. He is a good crosser and distributor, but commits many unnecessary fouls.
Gabriel Gomez and Anibal Godoy will work together in defensive midfield. Gomez is the most capped player on this roster and has a high soccer IQ. He is very aggressive and seemingly intercepts any pass near him. Godoy is an excellent passer with a very high work rate. He is surprisingly bad at tackling for a defensive midfielder. Edgar Barcenas will start at left midfield. Barcenas is a good dribbler and crosser, but does not track back enough to assist his left back.
Alberto Quintero seems likely to be deployed at right midfield. Quintero is a good passer, who puts in a lot of effort tracking back defensively. He struggles to score goals and his long passing could be better, so look for Armando Cooper to feature as a central attacking midfielder. Cooper has spent most of the MLS season coming off the bench for Toronto (just 895 minutes in 18 appearances) and has struggled to do much in limited minutes. He remains a top option for Panama and is a good dribbler who never stops running. Like Quintero, Cooper’s main weakness is his finishing.
Blas Perez, Luis Tejada, and Gabriel Torres all have good chances to feature up top. I expect Torres to start alone at forward, with Perez or Tejeda being subbed on if Panama is in need of a goal. Torres excels at creating chances for others. His weaknesses are that he isn’t a good finisher and is frequently caught offside.
Panama has a great chance to upset the United States. The USMNT has been in terrible form and will be facing immense pressure. Panama will likely play defensively and look to catch the U.S. on the counter like Costa Rica did. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw.