Here we are. To be honest I never thought it would come to this; the United States are in as close to a win or go home game as possible to get into the 2018 World Cup. This time, Panama stands in our way for our quest of our 7th straight World Cup appearance.
As it stands, Panama sits one point above us in the automatic qualifier and we stand tied with Honduras in the Playoff position (Wild Card basically). The catch is that we have a Goal Differential of +1, while Honduras has -7. This gives us a massive advantage if we were to tie them after next week’s match, as it is the tiebreaker. The table is as follows:
Panama is a team that the United States is very familiar with. We’ve played them numerous times in the last few years, whether it be in World Cup Qualifying, Copa America or the Gold Cup. We know exactly what they are going to do in order to get the crucial away points they need to possibly secure a birth to at least the World Cup playoff round. Simply put, Panama is not out here to win this game. They’re going to sit back and defend and try to counter, a classic yet valuable strategy to secure road points. If Panama can secure a point before headed home to face Costa Rica and Honduras lost in Costa Rica, their fate can almost be sealed to qualify. One thing the United States needs to do though is be more confident in attack; more specifically the midfield. If the midfield can string passes together and offer more chances for guys like Altidore, Pulisic, Dempsey, and Wood up top, it makes their job much easier in scoring goals. This is something that has been missing for several games for the United States.
Formation choices will also be key. Will coach Bruce Arena choose to go 3 at the back? Will he start with a 4-4-2 to balance out his attack and defence? Will he go with a 4-5-1 with more help beneath the striker to aid in the attack? In my opinion, we stick to a 4-4-2 and only when we go down or it is still tied, we switch to a 3-5-2. Why? Well, we can get the outside backs forward with 3 at the back, as they turn into outside midfielders/defenders aiding in both attack and defence. All while maintaining the numbers in the midfield and still having two strikers up top. The only worry is, we would need to be careful in the counter-attack with only 3 defenders at the back. But this strategy has worked for the U.S. in prior games.
All in all, 3 points would propel us to safety in the automatic qualifier, and a Honduras loss in Costa Rica would almost guarantee us a spot in the playoff round. Here’s what the rest of the matchups are for Friday and Tuesday:
The crucial game to pay attention to Friday is clearly the Honduras/Costa Rica matchup, as a Costa Rica win would help us tremendously while a tie would only be helpful with a win from the United States. On Tuesday though, we travel to Trinidad with hopes in only needing 1 point to qualify automatically. The big game would include Mexico at Honduras most likely if the results on Friday go as planned; as the U.S. may need Mexico to go to Honduras and get a result. The irony; the United States went to Panama in the last World Cup Qualifying cycle to score a last-minute goal to propel Mexico into the World Cup. Now with the situation flipped and the United States now possibly needing help from bitter rivals Mexico, Tuesday will be a sight to see.
Panama @ United States 7:30pm ET, ESPN
Panama (+500, +1)
United States (-192, -1)
This is it. It will come down to the matchups in the middle for about 75% of the game, and hopefully, our backline doesn’t give up too many counter opportunities like we saw in the Costa Rica game a few weeks ago (ugh). We need to get on the scoresheet early, as Panama looks to get out of the first 20-30 minutes without a scratch. Everyone on the team knows it’s one of the biggest American soccer games ever; with its legacy, future, and reputation on the line. Am I nervous? Yeah I’m fucking nervous. But I had a dream we won 2-1 on Monday night so I’ll roll with that. UNITED STATES 2-1!!
Trinidad @ Mexico -2
Honduras @ Costa Rica (-122)
Serbia @ Austria (+½)
Macedonia @ Italy (-2½)
Albania @ Spain (Over 3½)
Luxembourg @ Sweden (-3)
Belgium (Pick -116) @ Bosnia
France (-2) @ Bulgaria — BONUS PICK: OVER 3
Greece (-189) @ Cyprus
Mexico (-833), Rep. Ireland (-833), Croatia (-700), Ukraine (-1000), France (-500) = (-120)
After an average Champions League record last week and a below average yesterday, my record sits at:
50-46-6, 11-10 (parlays)
Could be worse, as I have yet to post a losing total record. But I expect more out of myself. Things always turn around, and you just have to ride each wave.
That’s all for the weekend games. May we all pray that by 9:30 pm on Friday night I’m not in a ditch somewhere in Old City Philadelphia and instead crushing American brews in celebration. Hope everyone has a good weekend, I’ll be back afterwards to recap and predict the next round of matches on Tuesday.
Stay kickin’ it. Peace.