The United States Men’s National Team opened the second stanza of CONCACAF World Cup qualification with a 2-0 win against Jamaica. The next opponent on the schedule is Panama, in a match to be contested at the Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City. With both countries currently separated by three points, this result could have long-term implications of a highly consequential nature.
Panama is led by Thomas Christiansen, a former Spanish international born in Denmark. The 48-year-old has experience managing in Cyprus, England, and Belgium, most notably at Leeds United. He assumed his current position in July of 2020 and has compiled a 9-5-5 record. While stringing together decent qualifying results, last summer’s Gold Cup resulted in a disappointing group stage exit.
This is the 24th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 16-1-6 advantage. Panama is currently at fourth place in the qualifying table, carrying a 1-1-2 record. Los Canaleros opened the third round with a scoreless draw against Costa Rica. The second match day was an intriguing 3-0 victory over Jamaica. That was followed by an impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico. This window started with a 1-0 away loss to El Salvador, a stumble that could prove costly when the competition wraps.
“It is not expected,” said the manager in his post-match press conference. “El Salvador played very well and beat us in all phases of the game… Regardless of today’s result, we have to be ready to face the United States, knowing what changes can be made, because I don’t think they will come with the same team that played against Jamaica today.”
¡ LOS ELEGIDOS !— FEPAFUT (@fepafut) September 30, 2021
Estos son los 2️⃣7️⃣ jugadores convocados por el DT @T9Christiansen para los partidos de eliminatorias, en el mes de octubre, , y . #WorldCup#Qatar2022#OctagonalFinal#TodosSomosPanamá pic.twitter.com/apSwc8PZ8N
Christiansen named a 27-player roster for the international window. Notable names such as Adalberto Carrasquilla, José Fajardo, Cecilio Waterman, and Andrés Andrade were not included on the squad. Five veterans from the 2018 World Cup have made their return to the national team, with the manager stressing that “the doors are always open.”
GOALKEEPERS (3): José Calderón (San Francisco), Luis Mejía (Fénix), Orlando Mosquera (Always Ready)
DEFENDERS (8): Harold Cummings (Always Ready), Eric Davis (Dunajská Streda), Fidel Escobar (Alcorcón), Michael Amir Murillo (Anderlecht), César Blackman (Dunajská Streda), Óscar Linton (Imabari), Jiovany Ramos (Atlético Venezuela), Jorge Gutiérrez (Tauro)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Armando Cooper (Árabe Unido), Alberto Quintero (Universitario), Aníbal Godoy (Nashville SC), Yoel Bárcenas (Leganés), José Luis Rodríguez (Sporting Gijón), César Yanis (Zaragoza), Abdiel Ayarza (Cienciano), Cristian Martínez (Plaza Amador)
FORWARDS (7): Gabriel Torres (Alajuelense), Abdiel Arroyo (Maccabi Petah Tikva), Rolando Blackburn (The Strongest), Ismael Díaz (Tauro), Jair Catuy (Always Ready), Eduardo Guerrero (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Freddy Góndola (Deportivo Táchira), Alfredo Stephens (Aragua)
Panama typically uses a 4-2-3-1 formation, although occasionally two strikers are deployed. During the previous window, Christiansen utilized the same starting lineup for all three matches. Rotation should not be expected, as the manager appears to appreciate consistency and not worry about fatigue.
Los Canaleros build through the wings and play a lot of crosses but can struggle to break down a crowded final third. The midfielders win back possession and quickly look to hit a through ball to a streaking runner. If that option is not immediately available, the attack is directed wide. Defenders will also direct passes vertically, as the general plan appears to be catching the opponent at a numerical disadvantage before the back line is set.
Luis Mejía is the current number one for Panama and has earned 36 caps. The 30-year-old plays for Centro Atlético Fénix in the Uruguayan Primera División after several seasons at the dominant Club Nacional. He has a big body and will charge out of his box to meet an opposing runner. His passing is excellent, although the occasional incorrect decision is made while in possession.
Fidel Escobar made three appearances at the 2018 World Cup and started in every September qualifier. The AD Alcorcón center back steps into tackles, at his best when beating an opponent to the ball. With Andrade out of the roster, the partnership is likely to be completed by Harold Cummings of Club Always Ready in Bolivia. The 29-year-old is a physical player and has a tendency to win headers on set pieces.
Left back Eric Davis is a fantastic diagonal passer, able to thread the perfect through ball or cross to the strikers. He can also nail a shot from long distance in the run of play or from a free kick. The other side of the field is occupied by Amir Murillo of Anderlecht, a marauding attacker with a high level of technical ability. The 25-year-old is adept at playing out of pressure, and his slaloming dribbling runs are useful in reaching the final third.
Nashville SC defensive midfielder Aníbal Godoy is the engine that makes this entire team run, sparking the build-up with his passing. On the defensive side of the ball, the captain is serviceable but not spectacular, clogging lanes and dispensing shoulder tackles. Abdiel Ayarza, a 29-year-old with Club Sportivo Cienciano in the Peruvian Primera División, entered two matches during the last window as a substitute. He is always looking to break forward, occupying the box-to-box role in the partnership. Christiansen indicated that the latter started against El Salvador due to his size, but the composition of the roster fails to provide a suitable replacement option.
Panama’s most dynamic threat may be José Luis Rodríguez, currently at Sporting Gijón on loan from Alavés. While not overly pacey, the 23-year-old winger is a tricky dribbler and works hard to get open for teammates. Normally a wide player, Yoel Bárcenas has lined up in the attacking midfielder role at the international level. He drives forward with intent and enjoys shooting from the top of the box, with admittedly sporadic success. Alberto Quintero has earned 114 caps for Panama, a mainstay since 2011 after debuting in 2007. The 5’5” dynamo of Universitario can score with both feet, hit long balls, and strip defenders to jumpstart a counter.
Club The Strongest striker Rolando Blackburn started in all four previous World Cup qualifiers. The 31-year-old can be hot and cold, but his poacher’s instincts tend to shine through when receiving the ever-elusive proper service. An innate sense of positioning could beguile the younger USMNT defenders. For another option, Gabriel Torres is back in the fold and may receive playing time. The veteran Alajuelense forward has scored 22 times in 97 international appearances.
Rolando Blackburn gets his head on the ball and it’s 2-0 Panama pic.twitter.com/YjnucYyXjR— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 5, 2021
Road matches are never easy in CONCACAF, regardless of the opponent. Panama has, at times, looked impressive in qualifying and could reach a second consecutive World Cup, provided the strong performances continue at home. With both nations so close in the standings, this is something of a six-pointer, which could take on significantly greater context in hindsight.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, October 10th at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Paramount+, UNIVERSO, and FUBO TV (free trial).