July 7, 2017

The Semper Soccer Blog USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup Preview

July 2017 means it’s time for the 14th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The games get underway July 7 with two games from Group A. The United States were drawn into Group B so they get things started July 8 against Panama. Their group includes Martinique and Nicaragua who they’ll play July 12 and July 15. As the 2017 summer of soccer rolls on, the Semper Soccer blog is following all the action as the USMNT looks for their sixth championship. We start with game one, this is the USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup preview.

What’s At Stake For The USA

The United States hasn’t won the Gold Cup since 2013. Sure, there’s only been one of these competitions since then, but that 2015 performance was so abysmal that it feels like it’s been longer. They comfortably won their group and then rolled Cuba 6-0 in the quarterfinals. But consecutive losses to Jamaica in the semifinals and Panama in the third-place match left the Stars & Stripes in fourth place. There’s no better way to start the tournament off right than by beating the toughest opponent in your group. A win on Saturday would leave a better taste in the mouths of US players and fans alike.

Individually, the roster is full of players looking to fight their way onto the 2018 World Cup roster, should America qualify. Starting up top, Dom Dwyer stated his case right away with a goal in his first cap against Ghana last weekend. His combination of physical style and relentless pursuit of the ball with runs behind the defense is valuable. With a strong Gold Cup, it would be difficult to not bring the Sporting Kansas City forward to Russia. Also in the attack, New England Revolution winger Kelyn Rowe played well in his first cap against Ghana as well. Rowe looked fast and creative in a performance where the USA midfield was in sync and passing the ball superbly.

There are spots open for depth in the defense as well. Bruce Arena prefers the duo of John Brooks and Geoff Cameron at center back while rating Omar Gonzalez as the top backup. Matt Besler has been here before, parlaying a strong 2013 Gold Cup into a starting role in the 2014 World Cup. The player to watch here is Matt Hedges. The 27-year-old FC Dallas man is the reigning MLS defender of the year. But Matt Miazga is also playing in his first Gold Cup. The young center back signed with Chelsea last year and spent the season out on loan. If he flashes that potential this summer, he gives Arena another interesting choice for Russia. By our count, that’s three Matts battling it out for possibly just one roster spot.

Position Battle To Watch

Eric Lichaj is back with the USMNT and factors into an important position battle in our USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup preview.

Eric Lichaj is back with the USMNT and factors into an important position battle.

No USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup preview would be complete without trying to figure out the fullback position. DeAndre Yedlin is clearly the first-choice right back for the USMNT. However, there never seems to be enough of them in the player pool. Graham Zusi has assumed the backup role at that position after successfully switching to the back line with Sporting Kansas City. Now Bruce Arena has brought Eric Lichaj back into the fold. Lichaj is two years younger than Zusi but has been away from the U.S. national team system for a while now. He’s been a fixture at Nottingham Forest since 2013, become a steady starter for the English club. One of these players needs to separate himself as the backup to Yedlin and the Gold Cup is the perfect opportunity.

The USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup Preview Projected Lineup

In the warm-up match against Ghana, Bruce Arena rolled out a straight 4-4-2. He paired Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty in the midfield with Paul Arriola and Kelyn Rowe on the wings. Joe Corona played more as the forward paired with Dom Dwyer with the responsibility of dropping back into the midfield. At times, with McCarty sitting in front of the back four and Corona getting the ball in the midfield, it played like a 4-1-4-1. That free-flowing midfield looked effective against Ghana, expect to see it again on Saturday. The one change expected is Alejandro Bedoya on the right wing. Panama is the next toughest team in this group next to the USA so the USMNT’s most-capped player is included. Perhaps Arena will change up his defensive pairing, but the attack should look very much the same. One roster change to note: Kenny Saief has departed camp due to a groin injury. Chris Pontius took his spot on the roster.

The USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup Preview projected lineup

The USA vs. Panama 2017 Gold Cup Preview projected lineup

About The Gold Cup

The Gold Cup tournament is played every two years to determine the champion of the CONCACAF region made up of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Twelve teams were split into three groups. The top two teams from each group plus the two best third-place teams advance to the knockout round. Not only does the winner earn the title of CONCACAF Champion, they clinch a spot in the CONCACAF Cup. This is a playoff held every four years between the past two Gold Cup winners to determine CONACAF’s representative in the FIFA Confederations Cup. If the same team wins the Gold Cup in back-to-back tournaments, that playoff is not held.

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