2018 World Cup qualifying

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Orlando City Stadium to host USMNT-Panama in World Cup qualifier

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Expect a hot and humid one when the U.S. Men’s National Team plays its final home match as part of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

U.S. Soccer announced on Monday that the USMNT will play Panama at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Florida as Bruce Arena’s side looks to book its place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Arena and co. will take on Panama on October 6 before playing its final WCQ four days later down in the Caribbean when the Stars and Stripes meet Trinidad & Tobago.

Through four rounds of play, the USMNT currently sits in fourth place in the Hexagonal with four points. The U.S. trails leaders Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama as things stand, but the Americans will be vying hard for a top-three position in an attempt of automatically qualifying for the World Cup for an eighth consecutive cycle.

The Americans have previously played just one WCQ in the state of Florida, which came back in 1980.

Mexico coach expects ‘very different’ US in June qualifier

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NEW YORK (AP) Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio expects a “very different” United States team for their World Cup qualifier in June at Azteca Stadium.

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Mexico beat the U.S. 2-1 in November in the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. After the Americans dropped their second game 4-0 against Costa Rica, coach Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena.

In its first game under Arena, the U.S. won 6-0 against Honduras in March in San Jose, and tied 1-1 in Panama to climb to fourth place after four matches. Undefeated Mexico leads the way with three wins and a draw.

“The game on June 11 (in Mexico City) will be a very difficult match, and a very different one compared to the previous one in Columbus,” Osorio said Thursday. “Mr. Arena will bring a very tough team to play against. He seems to always get the best out of the American players, and his teams are always very well organized, and they will have a plan.”

The Colombian-born coach said Mexico will have a tough time preparing for its two upcoming qualifying matches – against Honduras on June 8 and the U.S. three days later, both in the thin air of Mexico City’s famed Azteca Stadium. One week later, “El Tri” will face Portugal in its debut in the Confederations Cup in Russia.

“So that alone will bring another important factor into the equation,” Osario said. “How we can manage to play three days after we play Honduras and put a very strong team on the field capable of winning a game that is crucial toward our objectives.”

Osorio also highlighted the importance of emerging American star Christian Pulisic, who scored a goal and set up three others in the rout over Honduras. The 18-year old winger has also become a fixture in Bundesliga and European play with Borussia Dortmund.

“He is able to run with the ball, dribble past people, he is always good passer, can identify when and how to play elaborate football combinations,” Osorio said. “He is a player who is very influential, not only in final result, who can score goals, but in the game itself.”

USMNT to host Venezuela in friendly ahead of WCQ vs. T&T, Mexico

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CHICAGO (AP) The United States will play Venezuela in an exhibition on June 3 at Sandy, Utah, as the Americans prepare for World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico.

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U.S. coach Bruce Arena wants his players to prepare at altitude ahead of their match at Mexico City.

The team is set to start training on May 28 in the Denver area. Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium is about 4,500 feet above sea level, and the June 8 qualifier against Trinidad at Commerce City, Colorado, will be at about 5,200 feet altitude.

Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, where the Americans play June 11, is at 7,820 feet.

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Mexico leads the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 10 points, followed by Costa Rica (seven), Panama (five), the United States and Honduras (four each) and T&T (three). The top three nations qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia, and the No. 4 finisher plays Asia’s fifth-place team in a playoff for another berth.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come in World Cup qualifying as well as a Gold Cup campaign on home soil in July.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
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USA — 4 points (+1)
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Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

How will USMNT line up vs. Panama?

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Following on from their stunning 6-0 win against Honduras on Friday to get their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track, Bruce Arena and the U.S. national team face Panama in Panama City on Tuesday.

This will be a totally different test for the USMNT.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

With veterans Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey all available for selection, Arena will call on them to help guide the likes of Christian Pulisic through what will be a hostile environment in Panama.

The U.S. currently sits in fourth place in the Hexagonal standings with three points (that means they occupy the play-off spot) one place and one point below Panama while Mexico is top on seven points and Costa Rica sit in second place on six points. Right now, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama will qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

A win for Arena’s men would be very handy indeed, especially with a trip to Mexico coming up this summer, but a point on the road in humid conditions in Central America is nothing to scoff at either.

Arena is without both John Brooks and Sebastian Lletget through injury, as the USMNT head coach hinted that he could make up to four or five changes from the team which beat Honduras.

Below is a look at a few options for how the U.S. can line up in Panama on Tuesday.


JPW’s pick

—– Howard —–

— Zusi — Cameron — Ream — Villafana —

—- Bradley —- Jones —-

— Bedoya — Dempsey — Pulisic —

—– Altidore —–

Most likely XI

—– Howard —–

— Cameron — Gonzalez — Ream — Villafana —

—- Bedoya —- Bradley —- Jones —-

—- Dempsey —- Altidore —- Pulisic —

 

Defensive XI

—– Howard —–

— Zusi — Gonzalez — Ream — Villafana —

—- Bradley —- Cameron —-

— Bedoya —- Dempsey —- Pulisic —

—– Altidore —–

Thoughts

My pick sees four changes to the starting lineup from last Friday’s big win. Tim Ream would come in for the injured Brooks at center back, while Graham Zusi would start at right back and Geoff Cameron slots in at center back to replace Omar Gonzalez who looked shaky against Honduras. In midfield having a more defensive option in Jermaine Jones could be the smart play but that would mean losing Darlington Nagbe who did well against Honduras while Jones was suspended. Alejandro Bedoya would be a straight-swap for the injured Lletget as he would line up alongside Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic in support of Altidore.

The more defensive option would see Cameron partner Bradley in central midfield and Gonzalez keep his place at center back, while the more likely option for Arena is just three changes with Ream in for Brooks, Bedoya in for Lletget and Jones in for Nagbe. If it ain’t broken, there’s no need to fix it and Arena will not want to upset the rhythm of his side who looked so balanced and clinical against Honduras. Having Jones back from suspension will help navigate this tricky road trip where a point is a good result and that’s a totally different scenario to the must-win mentality adopted for last Friday’s game.