The USA faces a stern test against a strong Panama team in its first CONCACAF Gold Cup game on Sunday and will need to be at their best to win.
Bruce Arena has left his big guns out of the roster for the Gold Cup as qualifying for the 2018 World Cup is his main priority. So that means no Christian Pulisic, no Clint Dempsey, and no Jozy Altidore. No veterans like Tim Howard, Michael Bradley or Geoff Cameron. Instead, Arena has gone with an experimental squad full of younger players and many that are not really tested at international level. “The general assumption is that all of these guys are pretty good players,” Arena said. “So it’s how they make that adjustment from the club level to the national team, to the international level. Because they play different roles.”
Bruce Arena Back In The International Arena
Arena acknowledges that there is no significance to winning the Gold Cup, but adds that it would provide a welcome boost to morale and promised that the players he has selected will be trying their hardest to lift the trophy. Justin Morrow, Matt Hedges, Matt Miazga, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Dom Dwyer and Kenny Saief are among the new faces in the squad, and it will be an exciting opportunity for US fans to see how much strength in depth there is. Dwyer, in particular, stands out as having great potential after he used his blistering pace and strong finishing ability to superb effect in the friendly against Ghana on Saturday.
They will have their work cut out for them. USA faced Panama in Arena’s second game after returning as manager and Panama held it to a 1-1 draw. USA had just beaten Honduras 6-0 in his first game back after replacing Jurgen Klinsmann and everybody was full of optimism. But Panama was a stubborn opponent and held on for an impressive 1-1 draw. Panama is fourth in the standings in the World Cup qualification group, just one point behind the States. It has plenty of international experience on its roster and is seen as a dark horse for the tournament. It is virtually certain to finish in the top two in this group along with the USA, as the other two teams – Martinique and Nicaragua – are minnows by comparison. Fans should also remember that Panama beat the USA in the last Gold Cup a couple of years ago.
That being said, it is difficult to see the States losing this game. They are unbeaten since Arena – the most successful manager in the history of the national team – returned as head coach, with four wins and four draws. This is a young, inexperienced and experimental side, but they will be highly motivated as the prize for playing well is a chance to nail down a regular place in the US squad for the impending World Cup. Home advantage should also count: the Gold Cup is being played out on US soil and passionate home fans can inspire the US to glory. The USA is -125 with Ladbrokes and Betway to win this one and that looks a good bet. You could have a small stake on the draw at +150 just to cover yourself, but it would be a big surprise to see Panama winning this one.