Winning on the road is tough in CONCACAF, no matter who you play or where you play. The old saying is to win your home games and draw on the road. It’s a formula that works and it’s a formula that readily admits that winning away from home is never a guarantee no matter who you are.
The U.S. Men’s National Team may just have to win on the road in the coming week, but first they face a home match against Panama. If the U.S. can prevent Panama from taking points on U.S. soil, the U.S. would all but have one foot in the door for Russia.
With just two games remaining in the World Cup qualifying cycle, the U.S. knows that the upcoming match with Panama in Orlando is vital. A win would lift the U.S. into third place, two points clear of Los Canaleros with one game remaining. A loss would take away all hopes of that third place finish while also giving the U.S. a tough road to even a playoff.
After squandering a pair of home matches to Costa Rica and Mexico throughout the cycle, this is the road the U.S. faces, but it’s one that could be redeemed with a home win on Friday.
“It’s simple for us. We’re at home, and we lost our most recent home game to Costa Rica and you never want to do that. You never want to lose your home games,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “You have to win your home games if you want to be successful and go to the World Cup. The main focus for us is on Panama this Friday. Three points is the only thing that is acceptable in our minds, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
The good news? The U.S. is playing at the brand new Orlando City Stadium, a venue that has the potential to become part of the rotation for years to come.
The stadium, which opened for Orlando City’s MLS campaign earlier this year, has everything you would want in a home venue. It has an intimate feel that creates atmosphere. It has a raucous safe-standing section that adds to the level of fan excitement. It has a grass field and a great location.
McCarty says he expects a pro-USMNT crowd on Friday, and he would know. The Chicago Fire midfielder is one of two local players returning to Orlando for the vital game. The feeling around camp is that Orlando will show up, and the U.S. hopes that can add to the push for three points.
“I’m extremely excited,” said Graham Zusi, who grew up in nearby Longwood, FL. “I had the opportunity to play in Orlando in MLS this year, and I was blown away by the fan support and the atmosphere that they created. I’m looking forward to a lot of the same come Friday.”
“If you saw our last game in New York, it didn’t translate as well,” USMNT head coach Bruce Arena added. “We’re hopeful that this is a massive crowd supporting the U.S. team. The Wall is terrific, by the way.”
As Arena hinted, fan support isn’t enough. The U.S. still lost to Mexico despite the level of fan support at a familiar home in Columbus. They still lost to Costa Rica in an atmosphere that was slightly more mixed at Red Bull Arena. There’s more to winning at home than just fan support, even if it does help along the way.
The U.S. controls their own destiny, and they know it. Now, no matter the venue and no matter the scenario, the USMNT realizes the need to step up, take care of business at home and move one step closer to Russia next summer.
“We’re all excited about the opportunity we have in front of us,” McCarty said. “Two gigantic games and the World Cup is in our hands. We control our own destiny at home. It’s an advantage, and it’s one that we’re looking forward to. We put pressure on ourselves to perform and, obviously, we want to go to the World Cup. These are huge games for us and we’re hoping everyone has our back. We’re going to go for it 100 percent.”