USMNT-Panama preview: Gold Cup effort begins

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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The host United States men’s national team is not the favorite to win this summer’s Gold Cup, with recent results combining with a B-team to put Bruce Arena’s squad in the mix to claim a title but far from likely.

The Americans’ toughest test of a straight-forward group is Saturday’s opener in Nashville, when the Yanks meet up with fellow Hex side Panama for a 4:30 p.m. ET battle.

The U.S. is 6W-2D-1L in nine Gold Cup matches versus Panama, with one of those wins coming in penalty kicks following the 2005 final.

Panama has drawn three-straight World Cup qualifiers since a loss at Trinidad and Tobago, one of those stalemates being the point it snared from a home match against the United States in March.

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Los Canaleros will look plenty different from that crew, at least at the back. Jaime Penedo, Roman Torres, Felipe Baloy, and Adolfo Machado all started versus the Yanks but aren’t on the Gold Cup roster.

Fortunately for Panama, there are loads of questions for the Yanks forwards to answer. Dom Dwyer has exactly one cap, though he scored in that match (Saturday’s win over Ghana). Juan Agudelo has three caps in the year and a half, and Jordan Morris has two international goals in 16 caps and hasn’t scored since April in goal-happy MLS.

There are so many players staring at significant chances to become a part of the mix for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, assuming the U.S. completes its qualifying turnaround. Gyasi Zardes has fallen off the map after looking set to become an American mainstay, while Joe Corona, Kelyn Rowe, Justin Morrow, and Eric Lichaj all represent veteran options at positions of depth need for the Yanks.

All five of those names could be in their best window to make a World Cup roster considering what’s coming up in the pipeline. Yes, all sorts of prospects peter out, but look no further than Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan to see the size of the challenge that awaits players in their late twenties and early thirties who sit outside the roster.