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World Cup berth secured, but plenty on the line for USMNT squad in final qualifier

Jurgen Klinsmann

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After successfully navigating through the World Cup qualifying grind that is CONCACAF’s competitive Hexagonal round, the U.S. Men’s National Team has one match remaining before they can fully set their sights on Brazil.

Many of the first-team regulars in the squad are out due to injury or a coach’s decision from Jurgen Klinsmann, providing a number of players on the fringes of the squad a tremendous opportunity to impress the coaching staff with less than nine months remaining before next summer’s World Cup.

At Estadio Rommel Fernandez on Tuesday night, a young and overall inexperienced U.S. team will face a Panama side that American forward Jozy Altidore believes will be inspired by an entire nation backing the team. Panama, which lost to the U.S. in the Gold Cup final back in July, needs to win to have a chance at avoiding elimination from World Cup qualifying.

“Tuesday will be a tough game, because it’s an important game for (Panama) to qualify, and they will feel that they are playing with the whole country,” Altidore, who has scored in his last six starts for the U.S., told U.S. Soccer. “But it is also a good time for us to show that we are a good team.”

Not only will the U.S. be facing a difficult CONCACAF opponent, but they’ll be doing so without many of their recognizable stars. At least six regulars, including Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan and Jermaine Jones, will miss out due to injury while Matt Besler and Tim Howard were released to their clubs after the 2-0 win last Friday over Jamaica.

An opportunity now presents itself to Klinsmann and his staff, who can experiment with the starting lineup and give some of the more inexperienced players an invaluable chance to play in a CONCACAF road environment.

Players like Brad Davis, Michael Orozco, and Chris Wondolowski are all experienced in their own right but will have an opportunity to prove that they belong on the 23-man World Cup squad. Meanwhile, youngsters like Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson can build off their most recent performances in the U.S. shirt.

“Everyone that is here is highly focused and wants to have a good game,” Klinsmann told assembled media members following training on Monday. “I told the players already before the game last week that we are already preparing things for Brazil, so whoever goes on the field here has to show everything he has, in order to build his case for Brazil.”

Last Friday, Panama’s hopes for World Cup qualification were dealt a huge blow in their 2-1 defeat to Mexico, but the Canaleros could still find themselves in the play-off vs. New Zealand if Panama can defeat the U.S. and Mexico lose to Costa Rica. With all three CONCACAF matches on Tuesday occurring at the same time, a goal in one game can affect the mood of another as each side keeps an eye on the other scores, and Canaleros stars Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres, and Felipe Baloy will do everything they can to keep Panama’s hopes for a first-ever World Cup appearance alive.

“We expect a very energetic and highly motivated Panamanian side that will do everything possible in their capabilities to still make (qualification) happen,” Klinsmann said. “In football things happen really quickly. An early goal suddenly in Costa Rica changes the dynamic in the stadium here, changes their belief, and we are prepared for that.”

Against the backdrop of Panama and Mexico’s qualifying situation, Klinsmann and Co. are determined to leave Panama City on Tuesday night with nothing less than three points. The team is experienced against Panama, having faced and defeated them twice this summer, and Klinsmann can still rely on veterans like DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Guzan in goal and Clarence Goodson in defense.

Nearby in midfield, Kyle Beckerman should provide a steady presence, Graham Zusi can prove once more why he belongs in the first team’s starting lineup, and up top, Altidore is one of the most feared forwards in all of CONCACAF and will take the attention of the Panamanian defense away from the other U.S. attackers.

“The mentality is to go into Tuesday night with an opportunity to get another game under our belt and obviously try to get three points,” Guzan told U.S. Soccer. “For me, every game I get (to start) is important. It’s a huge chance to not only play but to prove to my teammates and to the coaches that I can be counted on and step in and hopefully do a job for the team.”

All together, there is a lot for the U.S. to accomplish as a whole and as individuals against Panama. From a team standpoint, finishing with 22 points at the top of the Hexagonal would tie the most points ever earned in this round of qualifying from when the U.S. set the record in 2005. From an individual perspective, players know that a spot in Brazil could very well be on the line.

“We have only a few games going forward, so all of our players are 100 percent focused,” Klinsmann said. “We know what’s at stake for Panama, we know what’s at stake for Mexico, but we have to take care of our own situation and we badly want to have three points getting out of (Tuesday’s) game.”


  1. I am most worried about the decisionmaking of Tim Howard and Sacha Kljestan. Timmy’s decision to go with an upside down hedge on his face, and Sacha’s 70’s p0rn king stache are worrying trends.

  2. I wish to clobber Panama on the road with this team of backup players and continue our quest to earn one of the Fifa top 8 seedings for the finals. I consider mexico irrelevant in world soccer at this time, and along with it… their chaotic federation. When you look at the likes of Vela and Ochoa you see what mexico futbol really is these days. The attitude displayed by many of the rest of them who begrudgingly, actually did play for their country not only during the Hex, but also in Brazil earlier this year was a telling negative example of what they’ve become. So, they either qualify for the Finals or they don’t.. it matters little based on what they’ve become.

  3. Altidore

    Davis – – – – Johannsson – – – – Bedoya

    Beckerman – – – Mix

    Castillo – – Cameron – – Orozco – – Evans

    – Guzan –

  4. Great to see Guzan get a start. I’m not sure he isn’t better than Timmy these days. It will be interesting to see who Klinsi starts out of the available players. Should be fun. Panama is a very competitive team though, so we’ll see what happens.

  5. Ok , I just read the espn article referring to Dempsey, and it is worded a little differently than Roger Bennett’s interview with JK that the article is based on.

    The espn article makes it sound like his spot on the team is not guaranteed…..

    But in Bennett’s interview, he asks JK about Dempseys status as the Captain, and JK responds that nothing is guaranteed.

    Plus, earlier in Bennett’s interview when asked about who is penciled in to go to Brazil, JK names only 10 guys( Deuce is one of the 10), and talks about building around Dempsey and Jozy up top

    It’s a great interview, but before all the brand new Dempsey bashers and conspiracy theorists get excited, I would recommend reading Bennett’s full interview and base your opinion on that, rather than the abbreviated espn article… it’s a good read. Very honest, fair, and motivating.

    • The way he has been playing and his crap with staying with the Sounders he certainly should not be captain and Jurgen has proven time and time again that no ones spot is safe, as it should be.

    • Well, Klinsmann doesn’t say it in quite those words at all. It was more like
      -Dempsey built huge exceptions for himself coming back to the MLS.(true)
      -He has to try to meet them.(Injury makes this hard.)
      -He also said no one is safe.

      So kinda sorta… admittedly if Clint never gets going in the MLS…. now or next year how could you take him…. gunna be hard decisions.

  6. Sorry, but can someone clarify (again) — everybody with an oustanding yellow card has gone home, so the only way that somebody could be suspended for the first game of the WC finals would be through a straight red or two yellows tonight — correct?

    • correct. If someone gets sent off, they have to serve their suspension for the first game of the group stage (or more if additional game are tacked on)

    • Yes, even if someone gets a yellow card tonight, it won’t count against them (unless, of course as Jacknut stated, they get a second one in the game thus a red card) in the WC since all the players start with a clean slate at zero yellows come Brazil 2014.

  7. If Panama wins and knocks out Mexico, hoo boy the level of conspiracy theories coming from Mexico will break the internet

    …but i dont think itll happen

  8. I like this roster. It shows that there is flexibility. The players who went home were already injured before they played the game against Jamaica. They should have be left home to begin with. Repetitive stress does that. It’s those players’ false pride that made them commit to last week’s game. And now they are worse. That was predictable.


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