Three thoughts ahead of the U.S.’ final World Cup qualifier against Panama
We always do Three Thoughts after a U.S. game, but here we’ll try something new: Three Thoughts on Tuesday’s Panama-U.S. World Cup qualifier ahead of the game (9:30 p.m. ET, BeIN Sport):
• The U.S. can do Mexico a solid here. In the big picture, there isn’t much at stake in this final Hexagonal game for the United States, which has already qualified for World Cup 2014. Yes, a U.S. victory would give the Americans a record-tying 22 points in the Hex and yes, a win would keep alive the minuscule hope of earning a seed at the World Cup draw, but five other results would need to happen and the chances are (per ESPN’s Albert Larcada) around 1 in 27,000.
But how the U.S. performs will have a big impact on the World Cup hopes of three other countries. Fifth-place Panama has to beat the U.S. and hope fourth-place Mexico loses at Costa Rica, which would almost assuredly send Panama to the World Cup playoff against New Zealand (and put Mexico out of the World Cup). But if the U.S. gets at least a tie at Panama, Mexico will be guaranteed a trip to NZ at the very least. Meanwhile, if third-place Honduras gets at least a tie at Jamaica, the Catrachos will seal an automatic bid to Brazil 2014. The most likely scenario in my mind: Honduras finishes third, Mexico heads to New Zealand and Panama is eliminated.
• Audition opportunities are running out. After Tuesday there are only four more FIFA international dates before the start of next May’s World Cup training camp. That means a few U.S. players have a golden opportunity to make an impression on coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Last Friday’s fitful 2-0 win against Jamaica was marked by missed opportunities for most of those U.S. hopefuls, but there will be even more chances with the camp departures of Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard. Can someone make a breakthrough in Panama City? Here’s the U.S. lineup I’m expecting: GK Brad Guzan; D Brad Evans, Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson, DaMarcus Beasley; M Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya; F Aron Jóhannsson, Jozy Altidore.
• Whatever you do, don’t get sent off. All accumulated yellow cards have been wiped clean, so a single yellow card Tuesday night won’t cause any U.S. players to be suspended for the World Cup opener in Brazil (the next competitive game after this one). But any player who gets sent off (via a red card or two yellows) would indeed be suspended for at least the first group-stage game in Brazil, and that would be a disaster. You might remember that Cameron got a dubious red card in the U.S.’s 1-0 friendly win the last time these two teams played in Panama City.
• Bonus fourth thought: Bob Bradley’s Egypt takes on Ghana in the first game of their African World Cup playoff at noon ET on BeIN Sport.