The United States kicks off its 2017 Gold Cup campaign against Panama on Saturday. This game will likely determine the group winner, with both sides expected to handily defeat fellow group members Martinique and Nicaragua. Panama is 1-1-3 in its last five matches, which includes a 1-1 draw at home against the USMNT in March. Los Canaleros are without several veteran stars, including Roman Torres, Luis Tejada, and Blas Perez.
Goalkeepers: Jose Calderon (Real Cartagena/COL), Orlando Mosquera (Tauro FC/PAN), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco FC/PAN)
Defenders: Roberto Chen (Deportivo Árabe Unido/PAN), Eric Davis (FC DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda/SVK), Fidel Escobar (Sporting Clube de Portugal/POR), Roderick Miller (Atlético Nacional/COL), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls/USA), Luis Ovalle (Zamora FC/VEN), Angel Patrick (Cafetaleros de Tapachula/MEX), Jan Vargas (Tauro FC/PAN)
Midfielders: Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula/MEX), Miguel Camargo (New York City FC/USA), Armando Cooper (Toronto FC/CAN), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes/USA), Gabriel Gomez (Atlético Bucaramanga/COL), Leslie Heraldez (Deportivo Árabe Unido/PAN), Josiel Nuñez (CD Plaza Amador/PAN), Valentin Pimentel (CD Plaza Amador/PAN)
Forwards: Abdiel Arroyo (Danubio FC/URU), Ricardo Clarke (Zamora FC/VEN), Ismael Diaz (FC Porto B/POR), Gabriel Torres (FC Lausanne-Sport/SUI)
Panama is an athletic and physical team, that may lack technical skill, but hasn’t lost to the USMNT by more than 2 goals since 2004. Coach Hernán Darío Gómez will deploy either a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1. Expect a 4-5-1, as the extra man in midfield will help the team effectively defend against the U.S.
Jose Calderon is an average goalkeeper, who has established himself as the starter after years of deputizing for Jaime Penedo. Roderick Miller is a tall, physical center back who dominates in the air. Miller is an important defensive leader, but has trouble defending 1-on-1 against quick players.
Miller’s likely center back partner, Roberto Chen, compliments him well. Chen is undersized (5’9’’), but makes up for a lack of height with his pace. Right back Michael Murillo is surprisingly strong in the air, but commits many fouls. He has played well for the New York Red Bulls in limited minutes. Murillo’s lack of playing time at the club level could cause him to struggle. Defender Erick Davis, who plies his trade in Slovakia, is one of the few members of this roster to play in Europe. Davis is a strong, aggressive fullback who will look to get forward into the attack.
Expect the Panamanian midfield to be anchored by San Jose Earthquakes defensive midfielder Anibal Godoy. Godoy is a prototypical, hard tackling defensive midfielder. His excellent short passing is key to connecting Panama’s defense to its midfield. Look for Armando Cooper and Gabriel Gomez to join Godoy in central midfield. Toronto FC’s Cooper is an excellent dribbler with a high motor. He’s an important playmaker for Los Canaleros.
Gabriel Gomez can play as either a two-way or defensive center midfielder. Gomez excels at intercepting passes, but offers little going forward. Edgar Barcenas is a dangerous winger with electric pace. Barcenas has a good passing range, but has struggled to score for Panama with 0 goals in 16 caps. Wide midfielder Valentín Pimentel is a relative unknown. Based on the little information available, it appears that Pimentel is a good crosser.
Striker Gabriel Torres is more of a playmaker than pure finisher, yet he is still Panama’s best goal scorer. Torres plays off the shoulder of the last defender, and is frequently offside.
Panama is weaker than it has been in several years and could struggle without a pure goalscorer. Despite their lack of stars, Los Canaleros always play the USMNT close and this match should be no different. Expect a narrow victory for the United States.