The United States Men’s National Team will begin 2019 in the desert. U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USMNT will open its 2019 slate with a friendly against Panama on Sunday, January 27th at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The fixture will be recently-hired manager Gregg Berhalter’s first match in charge, signaling that the delayed rebuild may now begin in earnest.
The Panama friendly precedes a previously announced match against Costa Rica on Friday, February 2nd at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California. The USMNT traditionally hosts a January training camp which serves to identify up-and-coming talent and provide a fitness opportunity for out-of-season domestic and Scandinavian league players.
As observed by Avi Creditor for Sports Illustrated, the camp will offer a glimpse into Berhalter’s “choices and preferences.” Will he rely on the old guard veterans, or will he turn the player pool upside down with less-heralded players that he’s observed during his time in MLS?
Panama is led by Gary Stempel (in an interim role), who took over from current Ecuador manager Hernán Darío Gómez. Los Canaleros are coming off a triumphant 2018 in which they participated in their first-ever World Cup. Despite losing all three matches in Russia, the Central American team has been a regular mainstay deep into CONCACAF qualifying, and will likely be a consistent inclusion in future tournaments with the anticipated expansion to 48 teams.
In its last match against Panama in October of 2017, the USMNT won by a convincing 4-0 margin. Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Bobby Wood scored in the rout. Neither squad will likely resemble the combatants in that contest, as many of Panama’s golden generation of veterans — such as Felipe Baloy, Jaime Penedo, and Blas Pérez — have since retired.