March 22, 2018

Stejskal: Who should the U.S. start against Panama?

07 October 2017, 09:56 | Randolph Howard

Soccer showdown! Viewing parties ready for US vs. Panama match

Christian Pulisic #10 of the United States reacts to a goal during the final round qualifying match against Panama for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Orlando City Stadium

Even knowing DeAndre Yedlin is healthy, all we can hope is that the players come out in Orlando with real urgency and, frankly, an ability to adequately play soccer.

Bobby Wood's flicked header off the goal kick was great, as was Jozy Altidore's touch.

The Americans have lost two home games in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957, 2-1 to Mexico last November and 2-0 to Costa Rica last month - their first defeat in 16 games since Bruce Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann as coach.

With a draw Friday, the United States would have to beat Trinidad and Tobago (1-7-0) and pray for help in perhaps both other matches Tuesday.

Despite long-held optimism, there are several reasons for the US team's struggles over the past two years.

"We're well positioned to hopefully qualify for Russian Federation".

Then, when stoppage time came and the US scored two late goals for a 3-2 win. But after Arena skillfully and effectively implemented a 5-4-1 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico four months ago, and after a three-at-the-back was used to more success in the last 20 minutes in San Pedro Sula, we're seeing that moving away from a four-at-the-back is a valid option (which I wrote about in June). It doesn't happen that way. "And I believe we're prepared to do that". We've advanced from sixth to third position with goal differential. "We control our own destiny", said Winter Park native and USA midfielder Dax McCarty.

Asked if expectations on Pulisic are fair - he is already the team's most popular player and was featured on "60 Minutes" on Sunday - Arena said: "It's fair".

"I imagine they'll be in a defensive posture", Arena said. He's got a lot of work to do.

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Costa Rica is a strong, strong team that does not like, and does not know how to lose. This year it's Australia against Syria, who played the first leg this morning, ending in a 1-1 draw.

"The job is half-done", defender Matt Besler said.

Most people would take more money to play in their home country to be sure and the level of the MLS has risen of late, but with a salary cap, the is not much competition for roster spots, especially for national team players. Los Canaleros sitting third with 10 points on the table is headed by manager Hernan Dario Gomez. "To get it early and put Panama under pressure. got us into the game". However, recent results between the two sides make it clear this is anything but a formality for the U.S.

He dodged Roman Torres's sliding challenge.

Picking up the ball on the left wing, Pulisic delivered a superb cross which was gleefully tapped in by Altidore. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard US move.

Pulisic's contribution on 19 minutes was equally impressive.

"Jozy just laid it off to me and I was just gone, I guess", Pulisic said. A draw would change nothing between the two. He scored in the eighth minute and assisted Altidore's goal in 19th.

Time is running out for the United States, and nothing short of victory will be acceptable when they welcome Panama to Orlando. "We want to come out flying". Any doubters he might have had before this goal have surely evaporated with this play that put the USMNT up 1-0.

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