With control of Group B on the line, Panama and the U.S. will face off on Sunday in their Gold Cup opener.
Right off the bat, two of the best teams in the cup will showcase their talent. The U.S., a favorite to win the tournament, has a strong roster made up of young and experienced players.
However, before head coach Bruce Arena and his team can even consider lifting the cup, they have to get through the group stage. Panama will be the first real challenge for the U.S. in the cup.
The Central American nation will be without a few veterans but should still have enough talent to give the U.S. trouble. It won’t be an easy game for the USMNT by any means.
With several starters left off the team for rest, head coach Bruce Arena has the opportunity to do something special at the Gold Cup. An opportunity to reinvent the USMNT.
The Gold Cup is the perfect place for Arena to test players who are normally left off the USMNT roster. Arena also has the opportunity to mold younger players for the future.
Even without guys like Fabian Johnson, John Brooks and Christian Pulisic, the U.S. is a heavy favorite to win the cup. It is easy to see why. This team has the perfect balance of talented youth and veteran players.
At goalkeeper, Brad Guzan (Atlanta FC) will probably start against Panama. Although Guzan has not performed his best recently, he did stop a penalty against Ghana before the Gold Cup. He also has the most international experience among the three keepers on the roster.
Then in the back, Arena has Matt Besler (Kansas City) and Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), who are both experienced and capable of shutting down attacks. Fans should also expect to see Jorge Villafana in the back. He has proven to be one of the most consistent defenders for the U.S. as of late.
With all the talent the U.S. has defensively, it should have limited problems defensively against a shorthanded Panama.
There are also quite the number of quality players at midfielder on this team. With veterans like Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia) and younger guys like Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas) and Kelyn Rowe (New England), the U.S. should be able to easily create scoring opportunities against Panama.
It also helps to have guys like Dom Dwyer (Kansas City) and Jordan Morris (Seattle) up top. Both men are capable of starting, but Dwyer looked really impressive against Ghana. He can score with either foot and knows where to be in the box. He can create major problems for Panama’s defense if he starts.
With few issues going on, the U.S. should perform well against Panama. The depth and talent of the USMNT will likely be the difference maker.
Fortunately for the United States, Los Canaleros will not be at full power. After looking through head coach Hernán Darío Gómez’s roster for the cup, it is obvious some big names are missing for Panama. These absences are for several reasons.
Prior to the star of the cup, Gómez announced his desire to integrate younger players into the roster. He appears to be doing that with his attacking and defensive unit.
With these changes, there are several issues Gómez and Panama will have to address against the United States. First off, top goalscorers Blas Pérez (Municipa) and Luis Tejada (Universitario) are not on the roster. Gómez will have to rely heavily on Gabriel Torres (Lausanne) to score.
Secondly, veteran goalkeeper Jaime Penedo (Dinamo București) is also not on the squad. Gómez will have to pick from three goalkeepers who have only have 27 combined caps with Panama.
Furthermore, veteran captain Felipe Baloy (Tauro) and defender Román Torres (Seattle) are also unavailable for the cup. As a result, there may be a few holes in Panama’s backline.
Even without these players, Los Canaleros still have some guys who can threaten the United States. For example, midfielder Anibal Godoy (San Jose) is a strong presence in the center who can set up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Forward Abdiel Arroyo is also worth keeping an eye on. He is incredibly quick and capable of breaking free from slower defenders.
With the talent Panama has, they should give the U.S. some trouble. However, Los Canaleros will need a lot of guys to step up to pull off an upset over the USMNT.
Prediction: USA 3 – 1 Panama
The USMNT and Panama will square off on Saturday, July 8th at the Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The game will kick-off at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.