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USA vs. Panama, 2022 World Cup qualifying: What to watch for

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A road match where a win will keep them on top of the Octagon.

Canada v USMNT Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team are on top of the Octagonal standings, and they look to create further distance when they take on Panama tomorrow night in Panama City. The USMNT will be without a few key players, as Weston McKennie (quad), and Zack Steffen and Antonee Robinson (UK Covid restrictions) will not make the trip. However, last month during a road match in Honduras, a short-handed USMNT side was able to turn it around in the 2nd half to win running away. Gregg Berhalter’s side will hope to do the same thing this time around while also conserving the energy of some of the team’s best players for the 3rd match next Wednesday against Costa Rica. Panama, on the other hand, desperately want points to climb into the top 3 in the standings.

Latest Form

USA

W (2-0) - Jamaica - World Cup Qualifying

W (4-1) - Honduras - World Cup Qualifying

D (1-1) - Canada - World Cup Qualifying

D (0-0) - El Salvador - World Cup Qualifying

W (1-0) - Mexico - Gold Cup Final

Panama

L (0-1) - El Salvador - World Cup Qualifying

D (1-1) - Mexico - World Cup Qualifying

W (3-0) - Jamaica - World Cup Qualifying

D (0-0) - Costa Rica - World Cup Qualifying

W (3-1) - Grenada - Gold Cup Group D

What To Watch For

Keep the formation. Last time the USMNT went on the road, last month to Honduras, Gregg Berhalter tried out a weird formation with several players outside of their natural positions. It didn’t work, and it was abandoned at halftime, with the second half being much better in the 4-1 victory. Learn from that lesson…stay the course and keep the formation that’s been faring so well in the Octagon.

Don’t play for the draw. On the road, there’s a tendency to want to play for a draw. Berhalter’s not the type of coach that has had tactics that would scream “hold the ball and get the point,” but that can’t change now. There’s a prime opportunity to make up some ground on last month and end this window in terrific shape, so the urgency needs to continue to be there.

Play for keeps. Go after 50/50 balls. Be physical in the middle. Be imposing and relentless on offense. Keep the wall tight on defense. Play like it’s the last time we would play Panama in a World Cup qualifier on the road for a long time because…it is the last time we will play them on the road for a long time! Go for 3, play for 3.

Lineup Prediction

With some guys not making the trip, there will be some rotation. However, Berhalter will likely make sure the defense is sound while putting in some attacking options:

Predicted Lineup vs. Panama

Matt Turner, who we can firmly say is the #1, retains his starting goalkeeper spot. The back line gets dicey with no Antonee Robinson, so look for Berhalter to try Sergiño Dest at left back with DeAndre Yedlin on the right. Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson continue to hold down the centerback positions.

In the middle, Berhalter opts for a bit more defense and possession, with Tyler Adams and Kellyn Acosta occupying more defensive midfield roles. Yunus Musah becomes the box-to-box midfielder.

Up front, Brenden Aaronson and Ricardo Pepi start again, with Tim Weah joining them on the right wing.

Prediction

The United States drew 4 years ago in Panama 1-1. Panama has played fairly well at home, but the USMNT will be focused on remaining on top of the standings. They escape with a 2-1 road win against Los Canaleros.