Panama vs. USMNT: Three things to watch, plus projected starting lineup for USA soccer

The United States men’s national team has a golden opportunity on Sunday to earn a bit of separation in World Cup qualifying when the team visits Panama at 6 p.m. ET on Paramount+. The Americans are coming off a fine 2-0 win over Jamaica, with Ricardo Pepi once again delivering, while the Panamanians recently suffered a 1-0 loss as El Salvador.

A victory for the U.S. could open up a six-point advantage above fourth-place in qualifying, with that spot going to the intercontinental playoff when all is said and done.

Ahead of the game, here are three things to watch, a predicted XI and more:

1. Time to rotate

There is expected to be a lot of rotation in the starting XI for the U.S. simply out of necessity. With some of these windows featuring three games due to the condensed schedule, you have to give minutes to other players and have your depth tested in order to avoid overworking them. After the first qualifier in September, coach Gregg Berhalter made six changes to his starting XI, and a similar number should be expected here. We know at least two changes will have to be made as Antonee Robinson (travel restrictions between Panama and U.K.) and Weston McKennie (quad injury) didn’t travel with the team after starting against Jamaica. 

On top of that, I expect Paul Arriola to be on the bench for this next match, and perhaps Sergino Dest as well.

2. Weah could have himself a big game

While that depth will be tested, U.S. fans should be good about the replacements. Tim Weah looked fantastic off the bench against Jamaica, and one would think he gets a start here based on what he showed. With Panama’s defense lacking discipline and often stabbing in at tackles when it isn’t needed, I suspect Weah will have a big game against them just because of his technical ability that will free him into space, allowing him to use his pace. If he gets the start at left wing, expect a goal or an assist from the Lille man. 

3. Richards should get minutes in a massive spot

There is no defender in the talent pool like Chris Richards. A prominent person in the sport recently compared him to France legend Lilian Thurham in a conversation we had. That is something else. There is a long way to go in his development, but there is no doubt he has everything that is needed to be a starting center-back for the team at next year’s World Cup. But his time needs to start now. Richards should start one of the last two games, and why not give him a taste of a road match in Concacaf for his very first qualifier? He’s played in the Champions League for Bayern Munich, so no moment will be too big. But his ability to play with both feet could be critical here with Panama applying pressure in attack. If he plays, keep an eye on him because he can do a bit of everything and is a threat on attacking set pieces. 

Predicting the starting lineup

Goalkeeper: Matt Turner

  • Why: Turner has been solid and Zack Steffen is not traveling for this game due to U.K. restrictions.

Defense: George Bello, Chris Richards, Miles Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin

  • Why: We will see at least one change with Robinson out, and to keep players fresh, we probably see at least one more.

Midfield: Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta

  • Why: Yunus Musah looked the part against Jamaica, but I expect changes in the middle to with a cameo appearance of the bench for him potentially. As for Adams, he started every game last time, so why not let the iron man keep it going.

Attackers: Brenden Aarsonson, Gyasi Zardes, Tim Weah.

  • Why: Starting Ricardo Pepi makes sense for a lot of reasons, especially since he didn’t go the full 90, but you know Berhalter wants to see more of what Zardes can do during these matches. As for Weah, seems likely that he will get big minutes. I’d start him, while also keeping playmaker Aaronson in there as he’s the most in-form player outside of Pepi.

How to watch

  • Date: Sunday, Oct. 10 | Time: 6 p.m. ET
  • Location: Estadio Rommel Fernandez Gutierrez — Panama City, Panama
  • Live stream: Paramount+

USMNT’s qualifying schedule

(All times U.S./Eastern)

Paramount+ is carrying up to 79 Concacaf qualifying games, including away games for the USMNT as they go to Panama on Sunday.  

Thursday, Sept. 2 (Matchday 1)
El Salvador 0, United States 0

Sunday, Sept. 5 (Matchday 2)
United States 1, Canada 1

Wednesday, Sept. 8 (Matchday 3)
Honduras 1, United States 4

Thursday, Oct. 7 (Matchday 4)
United States 2, Jamaica 0

Sunday, Oct. 10 (Matchday 5)
Panama vs. United States, 6 p.m. (Paramount+)

Wednesday, Oct. 13 (Matchday 6)
United States vs. Costa Rica, 7 p.m.

Nov. 12 (Matchday 7)
United States vs. Mexico, 9:10 p.m.

Nov. 16 (Matchday 8)
Jamaica vs. United States, 5 p.m. (Paramount+)

Thursday, Jan. 27 (Matchday 9)
United States vs. El Salvador

Sunday, Jan. 30 (Matchday 10)
Canada vs. United States (Paramount+)

Wednesday, Feb. 2 (Matchday 11)
United States vs. Honduras

Thursday, March 24 (Matchday 12)
Mexico vs. United States 

Sunday, March 27 (Matchday 13)
United States vs. Panama

Wednesday, March 30 (Matchday 14)
Costa Rica vs. United States (Paramount+)  

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