[USA-PANAMA]For the lone Hexagonal team that has never played in the World Cup, Panama isn't being taken lightly by the USA. After all, the Canaleros were the last team besides Mexico to beat the USA in official competition at home, and they remained unbeaten in the Hexagonal after Friday's 0-0 tie at home with Mexico, one point off Costa Rica, the USA and Mexico in the lead.
For years, Panama was considered an easy win -- Eddie Johnson became the first U.S. player in history to record a hat trick as a substitute when he scored three times in a 6-0 win over Panama in qualifying in 2004 -- but the Canaleros have played the USA close since then.
The USA needed a shootout to beat Panama in the final of the 2005 Gold Cup and it lost to the Canaleros, 2-1, for its first loss ever in group play at the Gold Cup two years ago.
Even without FC Dallas star Blas Perez, who is sidelined with a stomach virus, much of Panama's 2011 team remains intact with Jaime Penedo in goal, the two giants in the back, Roman Torres and Felipe Baloy, Gabriel Gomez, formerly of Philadelphia Union, in midfield, and Luis Tejada, who scored the first goal in Tampa, up front.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he expects a very difficult game from Panama.
"All that matters is total focus on Panama, which is a very good team," he says. "Individually, very gifted team, collectively, they have been together for a long time. They've worked for a few years and you can see that is a team that fights and is tune with each other."
The USA, on the other hand, is the changed team since two years.
Clint Dempsey is just of four players who dressed in Tampa and will dress on Tuesday in Seattle. The U.S. captain says that Panama is a very difficult team to break down.
The secret to playing the Canaleros? "Playing the ball quickly, one, two touch, and holding the ball," says Dempsey. "We'll be fine."
INJURY UPDATE. The USA is down to 21 players for Tuesday's game as the Herculez Gomez was released from the team to continue rehabbing his injured knee in Los Angeles. He came into camp with the injury from the end of the Mexican season at Santos.
From the original roster announced in late May, Maurice Edu and Danny Williams were dropped because of injury/fitness issues, while Brek Shea and now Gomez are off trying to get healthy.
Jermaine Jones will be held out of the Panama game as a precaution because of the concussion he picked up against Jamaica, but Klinsmann said confidently he'll be ready to go in a week against Honduras in Utah.
ZUSI REPLACEMENT.Klinsmann says he has a pretty good idea about who he'll start in place of the suspended Graham Zusi at right midfield. "We can bring Eddie Johnson right away on the right side. We can shift Fabian Johnson to the right and bring in Brad Davison the left."
PTS TEAM W-T-L +/-
7 Costa Rica 2-1-1 6/4
7 USA 2-1-1 4/3
7 Mexico 1-4-0 3/2
6 Panama 1-3-0 5/3
4 Honduras 1-1-2 4/6
2 Jamaica 0-2-3 2/6
Tuesday, June 11
Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Honduras vs. Jamaica
USA vs. Panama
Tuesday, June 18
USA vs. Honduras
Costa Rica vs. Panama