Still riding high from their dramatic 2-1 victory in Jamaica last week, the United States returns to home soil for their latest World Cup qualifier against Panama on Tuesday with Jurgen Klinsmann faced with having to make two changes to his winning side. Brad Evans grabbed an injury-time winner in Kingston just minutes after their long-time lead had been canceled out and the versatile 28-year-old will now get to appear for his country in the familiar surroundings of CenturyLink Field, the home of his club side the Seattle Sounders.
The 2-1 win took Jurgen Klinsmann’s side onto seven points in Concacaf’s Hexagonal and another three points on Tuesday would leave them in a strong position ahead of the visit of Honduras in a week’s time to conclude the trio of qualifiers. But the victory also came at a price with Jermaine Jones suffering a concussion in Jamaica that rules him out of the clash with Panama, while the impressive Graham Zusi misses out through suspension.
Zusi’s absence could mean a place for Sounders forward Eddie Johnson, who has often been deployed in a wide role by Klinsmann. A likelier option, however, is for Tijuana’s Joe Corona to come into the side. Jones will also be missed in the center of midfield and his likely replacement Geoff Cameron would be a safety-first option against a side that has gone undefeated through their first four matches in the Hexagonal. But Klinsmann expects a tough test from Panama.
"Every game is difficult,” he said after the victory in Jamaica, according to the US Soccer website. “Panama will be very difficult in Seattle. We'll need big support from the fans and need total commitment in every one of these games. I think our team is good enough and has enough quality to qualify for the World Cup but we have to be ready for the battle, ready for different circumstances and places."
Panama will also arrive in Seattle shorn of some valuable talent. Indeed, their loss is arguably greater than their opponents’ with leading forward Blas Perez forced to miss out as he still battles gastroenteritis. The FC Dallas man is likely to be replaced by the much-less experienced Rolando Blackburn.
That news should come as a boost to a U.S. defense that is still very much a work in progress and has conceded eight goals in their last three outings. But center-back Matt Besler is not getting carried away with Perez’s absence.
“We all know that Blas Perez is kind of the focal point for their attack, but they have a lot more talent too other than him,” he said, according to Goal.com. “We're confident and we found some consistency the last couple games. But we're not settled at all. It's still a work in progress and we're going to work at it every practice out here and every game to try to get better.”
Julio Dely Valdes’s side come into the match on the back of a creditable goalless draw at home to Jamaica on Friday and is just a point behind the U.S. in the Hexagonal standings.
Where to watch: The Concacaf World Cup qualifier will kick-off at 10 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.