USA understands significance of World Cup qualifier against Panama

Sunday, 08 Oct, 2017

"Now we have to go down there and do the rest".

Since then, the USA have qualified for every edition of the World Cup, a record of achievement that reflects the steady development of the world's most popular sport in a country which for so long remained impervious to its charms.

United States of America coach Bruce Arena says his team must show no fear, urging them to banish all doubts over their participation at 2018 World Cup Russia by defeating Panama in Orlando tomorrow night. Right now soccer is growing at a rapid pace and the World Cup will be a great opportunity to speed up the growth even more. The concept, from an elementary point of view is straightforward: play well and win regional matches. That opened the door for Guzan during the previous two sets of qualifiers. If the USMNT is the sort of team that should waltz through World Cup Qualifying.why haven't they done so?

Arena, meanwhile, needs look no further than former US player and current Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas for his team talk.

He had done enough, though, to almost push his team over the qualifying line. The key word: regional.

Accustomed to qualifying for the World Cup with games to spare, the United States players realise another slip could cause them to miss next year's tournament, a circumstance that has swelled angst among a growing fan base. The teams that don't are eliminated from World Cup qualification.

First, here are the CONCACAF fifth round standings heading into tonight.

Scenarios remain for them to qualify in the event of a loss or draw to Panama as well, including a scenario where it remains in the fourth position after the two games and advance to a one game playoff for a spot in the World Cup between Australia or Syria.

In Orlando, the tension was palpable as Panama arrived in Orlando a point ahead of the United States - who had earned just one point from their prior two matches.

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A sellout crowd is expected at Orlando City Stadium, though there are still tickets available to the Americans' final home match of The Hex. After two genuine US threats - as well as one good look by Panama - Pulisic shattered the deadlock.

On Friday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2, the USMNT hosts Panama and then they close out the qualifying hexagonal at Trinidad and Tobago at 5 p.m. on beIN Sports.

The USA finds itself in this perilous position after its shock defeat at the hands of Costa Rica on September 1.

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Last time out, Costa Rica just needed to beat Mexico at home to secure their place at next year's World Cup.

Now, understand: That doesn't mean faith that the United States will win the World Cup. US fans are hoping for a similar outing in Tuesday's match. Traditionally, the US and Mexico are jockeying for position at the top of the Hex.

Arena, who returned as USA coach last November following the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann after qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, said he expects Panama to take a cagey approach to Friday's game. Still, the Americans' fate is in their own hands.

"We've had a great year despite what some of you people think", Arena said in the postgame press conference, his wry smile only slightly masking what was likely some true annoyance. Teams better than Panama will take advantage of an undermanned defense, so how do you bolster that area of the field and keep playing what amounts to three forwards on the other end?