The Gregg Berhalter here is officially here, and the conclusion of the annual Camp Cupcake (comprised of MLS players during the league’s offseason, but few or no European players given that their leagues aren’t on a break) will see the Red, White, and Blue take on Panama tonight before a bout with Costa Rica next Saturday.
Let’s grab a quick look at the American squad and a cursory one at Los Canaleros before tonight’s game.
Opponent: Panama (No. 71 FIFA World rankings No. 65 ELO, USA is No. 25/35)
Recent form: PAN: L-L-D-L-L (All post-World Cup friendlies). USA: L-L-D-L-W (all friendlies)
The Line: USA -220, Draw +300, Panama +500
Time, Location: Sun., Jan. 27 • 7:00 p.m. CST (6 local) • Glendale, Ariz.
Event: International friendly
Weather: 63ºF, 0% chance of rain, 27% humidity, No wind
Watch: ESPN (English), UniMas (Spanish)
This game is less interesting because of how the final scoreboard will look (though getting back on the right side of the ledger after recent struggles will be nice) and more as a chance to evaluate some personnel who wouldn’t be called into a full-strength squad. Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley (142) has more caps than the rest of his teammates combined (104). Eleven players will be looking for their first action with the USMNT – and certainly at least a couple of them will get it.
Presumably, we’ll see some of the guys that Gregg Berhalter knows the most about (keeper Zack Steffen, midfielder Wil Trapp and striker Gyasi Zardes were on his Columbus Crew squad last year, while Bradley is a known quantity) get a lighter run-out either in this game or Saturday, with perhaps some of them even being released between now and then. However, given the respective strength of the opponents, you’d hope that the strongest possible lineup plays against Costa Rica. Defensively, maybe we’ll see Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty tonight, so they can be released back to Philadelphia Union – the club that has been something of a pain when it comes to releasing McKenzie for the U-20 World Cup. Maybe doing them a solid now will help that relationship moving forward.
Some of the players I’m excited to see include Russell Canouse (a defensive midfielder very much int he mold of both Trapp and Bradley), attacking midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, and striker Jeremy Ebobisse. As I mentioned above, we know a lot about the other guys at their positions – or in Mihailovic’s case, there isn’t really a similar player and I’d like to see him prove he can be a No. 10 at a high level.
Panama, coming off a World Cup year – they effectively took the US’s spot in the competition thanks to both the choke job in Trinidad by the Yanks and a total phantom goal of their own in a win over Costa Rica on the final day of qualifying – has a similarly young squad: defensive Fidel Escobar has 31 caps, striker Abdiel Arroyo has 36, and the rest of the group combined has 11.
Panama scored two goals and conceded 11 in a World Cup group with Belgium, England, and Tunisia. It was not a great time for them, and the players who were involved in it have moved along (or in some cases, are based in Europe and weren’t available to be called in) or weren’t worth calling in for a friendly that didn’t fall during an international window.
This is not a particularly strong team historically (fifth or sixth at best in Concacaf, while Mexico and the US have traditionally been 1-2 in some order, though Costa Rica makes it a top three nowadays), and this isn’t the strongest group they can call in. Even a similarly low-experience USMNT should be able to find success against them.
4-1 United States. Bradley, Ebobisse, and Zardes (2) are your scorers.