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USA vs Panama match preview: 5 things to know about Panama

Get to know the USMNT’s upcoming opponent

Panama v Tunisia: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team takes on CONCACAF rival Panama, in its first match of 2019. Because this game takes place outside FIFA international dates, clubs are not required to release players. As a result, this is a weakened Panama squad that will likely be unfamiliar to most USMNT fans. Here are five things to know about Los Canaleros.

1. Panama Roster:

Goalkeepers (2): Eddie Roberts (CAI La Chorrera/0 caps), Orlando Mosquera (Tauro FC/0 caps)

Defenders (6): Francisco Palacios (San Francisco FC/3 caps), Iván Anderson (Tauro FC/0 caps), Jose Garibaldi (Deportivo Arabe Unido/0 caps), Edgar Gondola (Costa del Este FC/0 caps), Guillermo Benitez (CD Plaza Amador/0 caps), Fidel Escobar (San Miguelito/31 caps)

Midfielders (8): Edson Samms (Costa del Este FC/0 caps), Luis Canate (Deportivo Arabe Unido/0 caps), Carlos Harvey (Tauro FC/0 caps), Ernesto Walker (CD Plaza Amador/0 caps), Angel Orelien (Sporting SM/1 cap), Omar Browne (CAI La Chorrera/2 caps), Adalberto Carrasquilla (Tauro FC/3 caps), Rolando Botello (Tauro FC/2 caps)

Forwards (2): Ernesto Sinclair (Costa del Este FC/0 caps); Abdiel Arroyo (Arabe Unido/39 caps)

This is a Panama C team that is entirely domestic-based. It does however, include two players (Fidel Escobar and Abdiel Arroyo) from the 2018 World Cup side. This is a young and inexperienced roster, with an average age just under 23 and with 11 uncapped players.

2. Arroyo is the Star Attacker

Abdiel Arroyo is by far the best player on this roster and could cause serious problems for the US defense (if he gets on the field). Arroyo is a scrappy, two-footed poacher. He is one of the few players on this roster who was also a member of the 2018 World Cup squad.

He has struggled for Portuguese Primera Liga side Santa Clara and recently re-joined Panamanian side Arabe Unido on loan. However, Arroyo is too talented to remain in the Panamanian League.

3. Escobar will Lead the Defense

Fidel Escobar has the most international experience of any player on this roster (31 caps), is the best defender, and started all three of Panama’s 2018 World Cup matches. Escobar is dominant in the air and excellent at intercepting passes, but struggles with the ball at his feet.

He spent the past 18 months on loan with the New York Red Bulls, making only 13 appearances and was solid, if unspectacular. He certainly looked good enough to be an MLS backup, but now finds himself playing in the Liga Panamena de Futbol. If Escobar can’t organize the backline and make important tackles, this could turn into a blowout.

4. A Team in Transition

Panama is a team in transition that needs young stars to emerge. Eight members of its 23-man World Cup squad, including stars such as Blas Perez (retired), Luis Tejada, Jaime Penedo, and Felipe Baloy (retired) were 32 or older. The team is currently led by interim head coach Gary Stempel. In his current stint as head coach, Los Canaleros have a 0-4-1 record.

Stempel replaced Hernan Dario Gomez, who guided the team to the 2018 World Cup where it lost all 3 of its matches. The 61-year-old Stempel has spent his entire career managing Central American club and national team sides. He previously coached Panama from 2008-2009 and also has been in charge of the nation’s U-17, U-20, and U-23 sides.

5. What to Expect?

Head coach Gary Stempel typically deploys a 4-4-2 or some variation of a 4-2-3-1. While it’s hard to predict what his team will look like for this match, I’m expecting a 4-2-3-1. Los Canaleros will likely be out-possessed by the USMNT and have to counter quickly in order to create chances. While this squad isn’t the most technically gifted, it is quite athletic.

Panama will be significant underdogs. Its players simply aren’t as technically gifted as those on the USMNT. I’m predicting a 3-1 USMNT victory.

What’s your score prediction? Let us know in the comments!