In danger of missing NWorld Cup, US need win over Panama

Panama's national team program has steadily grown over the years, and there will be added incentive to beat the Americans, who famously scored two late goals in a 2013 qualifier to quash Panama's hopes for a first trip to the World Cup.

"We need three points bad", star teenage midfielder Christian Pulisic said ahead of Friday's qualifier against Panama. A disastrous spell at lowly Sunderland that saw him score just one goal in 42 league games, all but destroyed his reputation overseas and he too scuttled back to cash in with MLS.

Yet American hopes of appearing at an eighth consecutive World Cup at next year's finals in Russian Federation are in jeopardy as Bruce Arena's side prepare to face Panama in Orlando on Friday.

"I haven't dwelled on what went wrong or what we didn't do", defender Omar Gonzalez said Thursday before the Americans practiced in a warm rain. In the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings, Panama hold the third and final automatic qualifying spot, followed one point behind by the USA in the playoff spot (fourth would mean a home-and-away playoff in November against Australia or Syria) and fifth-place Honduras, tied with the United States on nine points but far behind on goal differential.

"It's a roster we've selected that we believe will give us success in these next two games".

Friday's game also gives Panama a golden opportunity to avenge their agonising 2013 qualifying loss to the United States.Four years ago, Panama needed only to beat the USA at home to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.But two U.S. goals in stoppage time turned what looked like being a 2-1 Panamanian win into a 3-2 American victory to leave the hosts devastated.

CONCACAF's fourth-place nation enter a play-off next month against Australia or Syria, who head into Tuesday's game at Sydney following a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

Jozy Altidore, who promised much when he signed with MLS at age 16, has never lived up to his undoubted potential.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the US national team for ESPN FC. Bradley became the first American manager in England's Premier League and has been hired to lead Los Angeles' Major League Soccer expansion team that starts play next year.

The 28th on the rankings compiled by Federation Internationale de Football Association, soccer's global governing body. To think that it wasn't coming down to games nine and 10, you'd have to be pretty stupid. "We continue to grow the game in this country", said Arena who wants to see his side grab the initiative from the off.

"I imagine they'll be in a defensive posture", Arena said.

"It's to be expected in CONCACAF", Pulisic said. In a cycle where the results have often come from grinding, the next two games they will have to dominate. In the upcoming match, the Americans have no choice but to win.

"He plays at Borussia Dortmund in front of 80,000 people", Altidore said. "It's fair that every player needs to have a big performance in this game". "He's very relaxed. He's fine".

Despite recent struggles in the Hex, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard is confident ahead of the crucial upcoming WCQ matches.

Time for a revival is running out.

Four years ago the US rested many regulars heading into its qualifying finale at Panama, and the hosts were about 90 seconds from winning and advancing to a playoff against New Zealand. At that time, the USA was at top of the standings and had already qualified for the World Cup in Brazil. With Wolfsburg's John Brooks sidelined with a thigh injury, the USA has struggled at center back.

USA coach Arena acknowledged the importance of Friday's game, but reiterated that his players still have their qualification destiny in their own hands.