The United States Men’s National Team hosts Panama in Orlando on Sunday as they seek a berth at the 2022 World Cup. Last time out, the USMNT played Mexico to a 0-0 draw at the Azteca Stadium, while Panama also picked up a point in a 1-1 draw with Honduras.
How to watch USA vs Panama (2022 World Cup Qualifiers)
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More coverage via The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — With two games left in World Cup qualifying, the United States heads into a showdown against Panama in Orlando, knowing that winning the final game at home will be key before taking the road to the final.
the The United States beat the Panamanians 4-0 in October 2017 as Christian Pulisic scored the first goal and set up the second. Needing only a draw four days later, the The Americans lost 2-1 in Trinidad and Tobagoa nadir in American football that ended a streak of seven consecutive World Cup appearances.
“Every game comes with pressure, different pressure and of course we feel it,” goaltender Zack Steffen said Saturday. “We’re aware of emotions, our emotions, and it’s kind of about putting them on the backburner and going out there and playing the game that we’ve been playing our whole lives.”
Canada leads North and Central America and the Caribbean with 25 points and the United States is second with 22, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. Costa Rica are third with 19 and Panama fourth with 18. The top three nations qualify for this year’s World Cup, and fourth place qualify for a qualifier against Oceania champions, likely New Zealand. .
The United States would prevail on Sunday with a victory and Costa Rica failing in El Salvador, or with a draw if the Ticos lost. A draw from the United States would guarantee no worse than the playoff spot.
With a goal difference of plus nine to Costa Rica’s most two, a win would put the United States in a position to go to Costa Rica at most needing to avoid a lopsided loss.
“It’s really important not to get ahead of us,” said USA coach Gregg Berhalter. “I know there are similarities to last time, but we can’t wait. I don’t think it’s a band looking back. We recognize what happened in the past. It’s part of who we are as United States Men’s National Team players and program. We recognize this, but we have to chart our own course, and tomorrow will be the right time to do so.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner, right-back Sergiño Dest, centre-back Chris Richards and midfielders Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson are injured, right-back DeAndre Yedlin and winger Tim Weah are suspended for accumulating yellow cards and No. 3 right-back Reggie Cannon is out with COVID-19[FEMININE
Shaq Moore was brought from Spain to meet the team in Orlando and looked likely to start at right-back.
The United States is doing well Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Mexico at altitude in Mexico City, when the Americans had the best chance. USA followed the emotional high of a home win over El Tri in November with a bumpy Jamaica draw 1-1.
“It was just a totally different atmosphere, and we knew it was going to be a tough game, a lousy game and something we had to go through,” Steffen said. “This time I think by scoring a point in Azteca, all the energy and the emotions there, we didn’t go too high, we didn’t fall too low. Let’s go back to Orlando, where we are all focused, just to stay in the moment.
Panama were held 1-1 at home to Honduras Thursday. Rolando Blackburn’s 23rd-minute goal, his fourth in qualifying, was matched by Kevin Lopez’s score in the 65th minute.
When the United States traveled to Panama in October, Berhalter changed seven starters from the home win against Costa Rica three days earlier. Panama won 1-0 as Aníbal Godoy headed Eric Davis’ 54th-minute corner past Turner. The United States were outscored 8-5, including 4-0 for shots on target, and started just one possession in the attacking third.
“I’m not sure the sample size is large enough to really pass judgment on that,” Berhalter said. “It’s a big challenge.”
Berhalter used 38 players in 12 matches, tied for second most Americans in a qualifying cycle behind 43 in 18 matches before the 2018 tournament. Players returning after two days off had little time to recover.
“We put a lot of energy into the high altitude, terrain and travel. But I think we’re all in a good place,” Steffen said. “We’ve done a good job of recovering and recovering our bodies and regaining our minds.”
Notes: Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath didn’t practice on Saturday because he wasn’t feeling well, but that wasn’t related to COVID-19, the team said. He attended practice and watched. … El Salvador’s Ivan Barton, who worked in November’s qualifier against Mexico, will be the referee.