The U.S. men's national team is riding high after a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras on Friday, but a tougher test awaits. They must now travel to face Panama on Tuesday as even more injuries restrict Bruce Arena's options.
There are some key players who can dictate how this World Cup qualifier goes, and here they are:
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While the 18-year-old took about 15 minutes to really get settled into the USMNT’s match on Friday, once he did, he was excellent and made it very difficult for Honduras to stop the American attack. In a free central midfield role, he was able to find pockets of space wherever they cropped up and create goal-scoring opportunities.
It probably won’t be quite as easy on the road in Panama and it’s unclear where Arena will play him, but if Pulisic can come out with the same aggression and dynamism as he did on Friday, stopping the USMNT will be tough.
The midfielder figures to return to the USMNT starting lineup on Tuesday, especially in light of Sebastian Lletget’s injury that has forced him off the roster. Part of what makes Jones so good is his willingness to take chances in the attack, and the USMNT might need that in Panama against a team that may be difficult to break down.
Wherever Arena decides to play Jones, he is an enforcer-type player who is very good at disrupting a team’s rhythm and breaking up potential attacks. Frustrating Panama at home and preventing them from controlling the match will probably be important, and there’s no one better at it than Jones.
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While defensively Bradley was very good at keeping Honduras at bay on Friday and playing a defensive role, he saw his share of unforced turnovers, some in worse spots than others. If Bradley can continue his good defensive tracking and recoveries while tightening up his passing just a bit, he is going to make it difficult for Panama to enjoy any sustained possession.
And hey, if he can score another goal like he did on Friday, the USMNT might not be expecting it, but it sure wouldn’t hurt.
Mark J. RebilasMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
While Altidore didn’t get on the score sheet himself on Friday, he was where most good attacking things the USMNT did ran through. His passing was precise and he showed great awareness of the players around him.
Altidore doesn’t have to score to ensure the USMNT beats Panama. He just needs to go at Panama’s back line the way he did Honduras’ and, if it means he lays off a pass at the last moment to another on-running player, so be it.
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With John Brooks out for Tuesday’s match, it appears Cameron may be the only first-choice defender who is going to be able to start on Tuesday. As such, Cameron is going to need to anchor the back line and take a leadership role to keep it organized. Panama will be at home and trying to set score early, so the first 15 minutes or so might be a frenzy the USMNT needs to ride out.
It’s unclear if Cameron will reprise his right back role or move to center back, but either way, if he has a good game, it means the rest of the back line probably did alright, too.
Honduras was shockingly ineffective in front of goal on Friday, but the USMNT shouldn’t count on that from Panama. If Howard can make a few big saves, it could be the difference between winning and losing. Howard is capable of it, and the USMNT needs him to be engaged for the full 90 minutes.