USMNT readies for huge match against Panama in WCQ

After their historic win over Jamaica, Jurgen Klinsmann's men will look to keep rolling against Panama at CenturyLink Field.

USA vs. Panama
Tuesday, June 11; 6:30 pm PT; CenturyLink Field
2014 World Cup Qualifying match
TV: ESPN

The US National Team is in the middle of a stretch of three World Cup qualifying matches over a stretch of 12 days that started last Friday in Jamaica with a 2-1 win – the first in a qualifier in Jamaica for the US.

That dramatic, stoppage-time victory was just the beginning for the Americans, though, as they aspire to win all nine points from the three-game stretch that continues on Tuesday night at CenturyLink Field against Panama before concluding on June 18 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, against Honduras.

“We looked at this trip as a nine-point trip. We got the three in Jamaica. It’ll be important for us to get these three because we’ve said all along that we can create separation in these three games and hopefully that will be the case,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The US is second behind Costa Rica in the Hexagonal Round at 2-1-1, trailing only on goal difference. Panama, meanwhile, is unbeaten at 1-0-3 and looking to build momentum after a scoreless draw with Mexico on Friday.

The Americans will look to continue their unbeaten run at home in qualifiers, where they are 21-0-2 dating back to 2001. They also have a lot of success against Panama at 8-1-2 all-time, including a 7-1-1 record on US soil.

And while a win would be very valuable to continue that success and propel them to the halfway point in the Hexagonal Round, midfielder Michael Bradley insists that this match doesn’t fall in the “must-win” category.

“The strength of this team has always been the mentality and the spirit – how much it means for guys to come into this group and play for the national team. We’re stepping on the field to get three points and we’re doing what we can to get three points, but to say it’s a must-win?” he shook his head.

Panama has a few players who may be familiar to Sounders FC fans. Their captain, defender Felipe Baloy is the physical centerback for Santos Laguna who squared off with the Sounders in each of the last two years during the CONCACAF Champions League. Midfielder Gabriel Gomez also spent the 2012 season with the Philadelphia Union, notching six goals in 24 matches in his lone MLS season.

Baloy and Gomez embody the veteran experience of the Panama squad. However, it’s a team that has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup and is gaining confidence after a fast start in the Hexagonal Round.

“More than anything it’s a group of guys that have played a lot of games together and I think they recognize that this is their chance to qualify for a World Cup,” Bradley said. “We have to understand their mentality and know what the game is going to mean.”

In addition to Baloy and Gomez, Blas Perez is also an integral part of their squad. However, Perez suffered from gastroenteritis and his availability for the match is in question. Without the FC Dallas forward, Panama still has several players ready to step into the role and the US is not about to take them lightly because of Perez’s absence.

“He’s one of their key men, but it would be silly of us to underestimate them,” Howard said. “I think more than anything, if we focus on ourselves and get our performances right, that usually goes a long way.”

Panama isn’t about to garner any sympathy from the US, though. The Americans will be without Graham Zusi after the Sporting Kansas City midfielder picked up his second yellow card of the round and will serve a one-match suspension. Additionally, Jermaine Jones will be held out for precautionary reasons and Herculez Gomez was sent to Los Angeles to rehab an injury.

Even without those players and others who didn’t join camp to begin with, the US squad is confident they can emerge victorious against Panama and reward the Seattle fans that will be seeing their first World Cup qualifying match since 1976.

“I think we’re going to beat them tomorrow,” forward Terrence Boyd said. “That’s it.”

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