The United States men's national soccer team is preparing for Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier at Panama. A win would move the Americans another step closer to securing a trip to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
After beating Costa Rica three-nothing in Salt Lake City on Saturday, coach Bruce Arena's team will try to do something which it was unable to do in the previous round of qualifying, take all three points with a victory in Panama City's Rommel Fernandez Stadium. Although Panama currently sits in last place in the six-team final round North, Central American and Caribbean zone (CONCACAF) standings, Arena is not letting his team underestimate its opponents.
"We know they are a team that is strong at home and we respect that,” said Mr. Arena. “They bring great athleticism to the field and they are fairly direct, very aggressive. Their back's up against the wall and they are going to be giving us everything they have".
The U.S. will likely rely on Landon Donovan, 23, to lead the attack once again. The midfielder, who also plays for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, scored his first two goals for the national team this year against Costa Rica.
FC Dallas forward Eddie Johnson remains injured and will not play, so forwards Brian McBride of English club Fulham and Kansas City's Josh Wolff will likely start for the second straight game. Kasey Keller will be back in goal, fresh off a superb performance in which he recorded six saves and a shut out.
When the U.S. and Panama met at RFK Stadium in Washington October 13, the Americans romped to a six-nothing victory. But in Panama City one month earlier, the home side held the U.S. to a one-one draw. The United States barely managed to salvage the tie, getting the 91st-minute equalizer from veteran midfielder Cobi Jones.
This is the first time that Panama has ever reached the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. The U.S. is attempting to qualify for its fifth consecutive World Cup.