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USMNT facing Panama on Sunday with 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification in sight

CHICAGO – Pending the result of the El Salvador-Costa Rica match earlier that evening, the U.S. Men’s National Team has a chance to punch its 2022 FIFA World Cup ticket on Sunday when it faces Panama in Orlando, Fla.

After earning a critical road point against Mexico on Thursday, the USMNT can clinch qualification with a victory against Los Canaleros in its final home qualifier and a Costa Rica loss or draw in San Salvador. The USA could qualify with a draw should Costa Rica lose at El Salvador.

Kickoff from Exploria Stadium in Orlando is set for 7 p.m. ET (FS1, UniMas, TUDN).

USMNT ROSTER BY POSITION – MARCH WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 7/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 9/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 27/0)

DEFENDERS (10): George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld/GER; 6/0), Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 24/1), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 22/3), Shaq Moore (Tenerife/ESP; 13/1), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes/FRA; 3/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 23/2), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 18/3), James Sands (Rangers/SCO; 7/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 72/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 26/3)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 49/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 25/1), Gianluca Busio (Venezia/ITA; 8/0), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED; 5/0), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 14/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 31/0)

FORWARDS (8): Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 43/8), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 7/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 44/10), Jordan Pefok (Young Boys/SUI; 9/1), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg/GER; 10/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 46/18), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund; 10/4), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 21/2)

ROSTER UPDATES

With defenders Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin unavailable for Sunday’s match, right back Shaq Moore was called into camp and arrived in Orlando on Thursday evening. Cannon is unavailable after testing positive for COVID ahead of Thursday’s match against Mexico, while Yedlin will serve a one-game suspension on Sunday after picking up his second yellow card of qualifying at Azteca. First capped in 2018, Moore had a resurgent return to the National Team last summer, earning Best XI honors as he helped the USA win the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defender Miles Robinson, midfielder Tyler Adams and forward Jordan Pefok enter Sunday’s match on caution watch. Should any of them receive a yellow card vs. Panama, they will be suspended for the WCQ finale at Costa Rica on Wednesday.

Prior to the start of the window, defender George Bello was added to the squad to replace injured defender Sergiño Dest. Forward Brenden Aaronson was also ruled out of the roster after suffering an injury training with his club.

USA SCHEDULE – MARCH WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

Date Opponent Venue Result/Time (ET) TV Info
Thursday, March 24 Mexico Estadio Azteca; Mexico City, Mexico 0-0 D
Sunday, March 27 Panama Exploria Stadium; Orlando, Fla. 6:30 p.m. FS1, UniMas, TUDN
Wednesday, March 30 Costa Rica Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica; San Jose, Costa Rica 9:05 p.m. Paramount+, Universo, Peacock

ALL EYES ON QUALIFICATION

With just two of 14 matches left to play, the USA is second of eight teams in the final round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The USMNT can clinch its World Cup berth with a victory vs. Panama combined with a Costa Rica draw or loss at El Salvador. The U.S. can also qualify with a draw if Costa Rica loses at El Salvador.

The top three teams in the Octagonal qualify automatically for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, while the fourth-place team will participate in an intercontinental playoff against the winner of Oceania’s qualifying tournament. It’s a tight race at the top of the table as five teams are still alive for the three automatic berths and second through fifth are separated by just four points.

CRUCIAL ROAD POINT

The USMNT earned a hard-fought point from a 0-0 draw vs. Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Thursday night. After plenty of past struggles on the road against El Tri, it’s the fourth third-straight World Cup qualifying point for the USA, and third straight at Azteca, after previous draws in 1997, 2013 and 2017. In a back-and-forth match, the U.S. had some prime opportunities to take the lead, including on a lovely ball from Tim Weah to Christian Pulisic in the 35th minute and a nice sequence when Gio Reyna teed up Jordan Pefok in the 72nd. Reyna made his first appearance for the USA since its first World Cup qualifier on Sept. 2, and turned heads off the bench with a number of impressive runs.

FRESH FACES, BATTLE-TESTED

After Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown made their World Cup qualifying debuts at Mexico, a record-tying 29 players have made their first WCQ appearance this cycle. The 29 debutants tie the 1998 cycle, which saw several debuts as the USMNT didn’t need to qualify for the United States-hosted 1994 FIFA World Cup. A total of 38 players have been used through the first 12 matches, tied for the second-most in one cycle. Forty-three players were used in the 18-game 2010 cycle, including two preliminary round matches.

Sporting one of the world’s youngest player pools for this World Cup qualifying cycle, the USMNT has gained loads of experience since the Octagonal kicked off in September. Head coach Gregg Berhalter has twice fielded line-ups that were the USA’s youngest-ever in World Cup qualifying. Of the 26 players on the March roster, 17 return from January/February World Cup qualifying. Five players have double-digit WCQ caps: Christian Pulisic (21), DeAndre Yedlin (18), Kellyn Acosta (17), Tyler Adams (11) and Antonee Robinson (11).

ÉXITO AT EXPLORIA

USA-Panama is the USA’s final home World Cup qualifying match of the 2022 cycle and the USMNT returns to the friendly confines of Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. The U.S. has won all four of its matches at the home of Orlando City SC by a 16-1 goal differential, including its last home World Cup qualifier vs. Panama in 2017, a 4-0 win. The USA also delivered an emphatic Concacaf Nations League victory vs. Canada at Exploria in November 2019, downing its northern neighbor 4-1 to set itself up to win the CNL group. Overall, the USMNT is 5-2-0 in Orlando and 24-17-10 in Florida.

Through six home matches of the Octagonal, the U.S. has logged an undefeated 5-0-1 record and outscored its opponents 11-2. The USA hasn’t conceded on home soil since its Oct. 13 match against Costa Rica, when a frenzied start saw Los Ticos score in the first minute of play. Since then, the U.S. defense has gone 359 minutes without allowing a goal in home WCQ action.

FIGHTING TO THE FINISH

World Cup qualifying in the Concacaf region is a gauntlet, and history shows that qualification usually comes down to the final matches of the competition. While the current format features 14 matches and eight teams, qualifying previously consisted of 10 matches and six teams. In five previous successful World Cup qualifying cycles, the USA didn’t clinch until Matchday 9 or 10 twice, Matchday 8 twice and Matchday 7 once.

WELCOME BACK

After some time away from the USMNT, four players made long-awaited returns to the field for the USA at Mexico.  Defenders Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown earned their first World Cup qualifying caps in their first WCQ call-ups. Long had been recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered last May, training individually with the USA in November before joining the squad for December and the January pre-qualifying training camp. The New York Red Bulls center back has captained the team five times – third-most among the 88 players that have earned caps during the Berhalter era. Palmer-Brown is back in camp for the first time since the USA’s March 2021 friendlies vs. Jamaica and Northern Ireland and Thursday marked his first cap under Berhalter.

In addition to forward Gio Reyna’s return to the pitch for the first time since September, forward Jordan Pefok’s appearance at Mexico was his first appearance since Sept. 6 vs. Canada. Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath’s March call-up also marked his first since the September international window.

LAST TIME OUT

The USA fell 1-0 to Panama in the teams’ first World Cup qualifying meeting on Oct. 10 in Panama City. After an undefeated four-game start to the Octagonal, Panama captain Anibal Godoy headed in a 54th-minute corner kick to snap a 13-game unbeaten streak for the U.S. On a steamy afternoon in Central America, both teams had trouble finding their rhythm on a soggy pitch at Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

Panama is currently fifth in the Octagonal standings, one point out of the fourth-place intercontinental playoff berth and four points out of the top three automatic qualifying spots. In its first match of the March window, Los Canaleros drew 1-1 with bottom-of-the-table Honduras at home. Forward Rolando Blackburn got Panama on the board midway through the first half, but Honduras answered after the break to steal a point in Panama City.

THE OCTAGONAL

For the first time, Concacaf has included eight teams in the final round of qualifying for the World Cup. The teams will play a round-robin, home and away format which includes 14 matches each. Due to the global health pandemic, a process which normally takes place during the course of 18 months has been reduced to seven. Additionally, the condensed schedule includes four ‘triple dates’ consisting of three matches during a seven-day window. The following teams reached the final round: Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Mexico and the United States.

ONLY FORWARD/SOLO PA’LANTE

U.S. Soccer kicked off World Cup qualifying with the launch of “Only Forward,” / “Solo Pa’lante,” U.S. Soccer’s new creative campaign focused on uniting fans and the USMNT in a collective journey to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Developed in conjunction with the players, coaches and staff, “Only Forward / Solo Pa’lante” highlights a young, diverse and global-minded Men’s National Team that is humble yet resilient as it looks to tackle the challenge of World Cup Qualifying during the next eight months. After an action-packed summer in which the deep U.S. player pool responded to adversity on and off the field and proved itself with two regional championship trophies, the USMNT is ready to show the world that they are prepared to change the way the world views American soccer. 

USA ROSTER NOTES:

●      Tyler Adams and Antonee Robinson earned their 11th WCQ appearances in the match against Mexico, moving into a tie with the injured Brenden Aaronson for the team lead during the 2022 qualifying cycle.

●      Christian Pulisic made his 21st WCQ appearance in the match against Mexico, moving into a tie with John Harkes, Eddie Lewis and Oguchi Onyewu for 17th on the USMNT’s qualifying appearances list.

●      At 19 years, 74 days, Pepi became the fourth youngest player to reach double-digit appearances for the USMNT with his appearance vs. Mexico, following Christian Pulisic (18 years, 54 days; Nov. 11, 2016 vs. Mexico), Juan Agudelo (18 years, 214 days; June 25, 2011 vs. Mexico) and Yunus Musah (18 years, 348 days; Nov. 12, 2021 vs. Mexico).

Players represent clubs in 10 different countries: USA (10), England (4), Germany (4), France (2), Spain (2), Italy (1), Netherlands (1), Portugal (1), Scotland (1) and Switzerland (1).

●      Seventeen players were part of the January/February World Cup Qualifying roster.

●      Thirteen players are age 24 and younger: Erik Palmer-Brown and A. Robinson (24); Adams, Reggie Cannon and Christian Pulisic (23); Tim Weah (22); Jesús Ferreira and James Sands (21); George Bello (20); Gianluca Busio, Yunus Musah, Ricardo Pepi and Gio Reyna (19).

●      Goalkeepers Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson are the two players seeking their first World Cup Qualifying caps.

●      Three players have found the back of the net against Panama: Christian Pulisic (Oct. 6, 2017), Gio Reyna (Nov. 16, 2021) and Walker Zimmerman (Jan. 27, 2019).

USA-PANAMA

●      The USMNT is 16-2-6 vs. Panama all-time, outscoring Los Canaleros 47-15.

●      In World Cup qualifying, the USA is 6-1-2 vs. Panama, including a 4-0-0 mark at home with a 14-0 goal differential.

●      During the last World Cup qualifying cycle, the U.S. topped Panama 4-0 on Oct. 6, 2017 as forward Christian Pulisic opened the scoring with an eighth-minute goal.

●      In October 2004, the USMNT topped Panama 6-0 in Washington, D.C. to clinch its spot in the Hexagonal final round of World Cup qualifying. Forward Eddie Johnson became the first U.S. player to come off the bench and score a hat trick, doing so in just 17 minutes. Forward Landon Donovan also contributed two goals.

●      One of the teams’ most memorable match-ups came in Panama City in October 2013, a 3-2 victory for the U.S. Already qualified for the World Cup, the USA scored two goals in stoppage time to eliminate the hosts from World Cup contention. A draw would’ve eliminated Mexico from World Cup contention, but the result sent El Tri to the intercontinental playoffs.

●      In June 2013, the USA topped Panama 2-0 in front of one of its largest home WCQ crowds ever in June 2013 in Seattle. Jozy Altidore netted in the first half, while Johnson scored after the break.

PANAMA ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (4): Eric Hughes (Tauro; 0/0), Luis Mejia (Union Espanola/CHI; 40/0), Orlando Mosquera (Carabobo/VEN; 5/0), Cesar Samudio (Independiente; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (8): Andres Andrade (Arminia Bielefeld/GER; 12/1), Cesar Blackman (Dunajska Streda/SVK; 6/0), Jose Cordoba (Levski Sofia/BUL; 0/0), Harold Cummings (Arabe Unido; 78/1), Eric Davis (Dunajska Streda/SVK; 67/4), Fidel Escobar (Cultural Leonesa/ESP; 47/1), Jorge Gutierrez (Tauro; 1/0), Michael Amir Murillo (Anderlecht/BEL; 46/2)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Abdiel Ayarza (Cusco/PER; 18/3), Yoel Barcenas (Leganes/ESP; 54/2), Adalberto Carrasquilla (Houston Dynamo/USA; 24/1), Anibal Godoy (Nashville SC/USA; 111/3), Freddy Gondola (Alajuelense/CRC; 1/0), Cristian Martinez (Monagas/VEN; 11/0), Victor Medina (Saprissa/CRC; 5/0), Alberto Quintero (Universitario/PER; 114/7), Jose Luis Rodriguez (Sporting Gijon/ESP; 30/2), Cesar Yanis (Zamora/ESP; 21/1)

FORWARDS (4): Ronaldo Blackburn (Royal Pari/BOL; 44/10), Ismael Diaz (Universidad Catolica/ECU; 12/2), Gabriel Torres (Deportes Antofagasta/CHI; 99/22), Cecilio Waterman (Cobresal/CHI; 14/5)

IN FOCUS: PANAMA

●      Panama is seeking to return to the FIFA World Cup after making its debut at Russia 2018 following a third-place finish in the Hexagonal. Los Canaleros finished fourth in Group G with three losses.

●      This is Panama’s third consecutive and fourth overall appearance in the Final Round of World Cup qualifying since the Hexagonal began in 1998.

●      Panama’s 26-man roster ply their trade in a wide variety of locales. In addition to four players based in Panama, Los Canaleros play in Spain (four), Chile (three), Costa Rica, Peru, Slovakia, United States, Venezuela (two each), Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Ecuador and Germany (one each).

●      Defender Andres Andrade plays with U.S. defender George Bello at Germany’s Arminia Bielefeld, while midfielder Anibal Godoy is teammates with U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman at Nashville SC.

●      Midfielder Alberto Quintero leads Panama with 114 caps. Godoy has made 111 appearances for Panama.

●      Forward Gabriel Torres is Panama’s leading scorer with 22 goals. During World Cup qualifying, eight players have scored for Panama: Ronaldo Blackburn (four goals), Cecilio Waterman (three), Eric Davis (two), Andres Andrade, Azmahar Ariano, Godoy, Freddy Gondola and Cesar Yanis (one each).

●      Head coach Thomas Christiansen took charge of Panama in July 2020 after previous coaching stints in Belgium, Cyprus, and England with Leeds United. The Spanish international enjoyed a long playing career across Europe, leading the Bundesliga in goals for the 2002-03 season with VfL Bochum.

●      While five teams automatically qualified to the final eight-team round of World Cup qualifying, Panama earned its Octagonal berth as one of three nations to emerge from 30 teams competing in the first two rounds.

●      Seeded fourth in the first round of qualifying, Panama won Group D with four straight victories. After two tight one-goal wins vs. Barbados and Dominica, Panama blew things open with a 13-0 win against Anguilla and a 3-0 victory vs. Dominican Republic.

●      In the six-team second round, Panama drew on-the-rise Curacao for a home-and-away series. Los Canaleros won 2-1 at home and a scoreless draw at Curacao secured their spot in the Octagonal.

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