Who Should the United States against Panama?
Whatever Bruce Arena does, he should be sure not to change the attack-minded nature of the United States’ lineup that beat Honduras 6-0. Arena only used one defensive midfielder, Michael Bradley, as opposed to using a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, and this allowed the United States to overload its lineup with attacking players without having too little defensive coverage in front of the defense.
There’s no reason to change goalkeepers, especially since Brad Guzan isn’t even on the roster, so Tim Howard should start in goal again. However, the rest of the defense will have some changes as one of the two starting center backs, John Brooks, is unavailable. Arena was using Geoff Cameron at right back, but Arena may need to move him back to center back because otherwise the center of the American defense may be too week.
The U.S. could start Cameron with Tim Ream, and this would give the United States two athletic and technical center backs to try to get three more points against Panama. Omar Gonzalez is a decent center back, but he frequently looks prone to be wrong-footed or outfoxed with lateral quickness and speed. Likewise, Matt Besler, the only U.S. center back option, is fast but somewhat mediocre for international play. If Arena wants to be really bold again, then he could use Walker Zimmerman who is fast enough, technical enough, and aggressive enough to make for a quality center back in international play. Compared to Gonzalez and Besler, Zimmerman is likely harder to get past and more intimidating for attackers.
In the Front Six, which would include the defensive midfielder, the three attacking midfielders, and the two forwards, the United States should change as little as possible from the lineup that pounded Honduras. For one of the first times ever, the United States looked like they were playing skill soccer, and that lineup produced quick passing, creative play, and goals. Since one of those starters, Sebastian Lletget, cannot start against Panama due to injury, Arena should let Paul Arriola start at right wing over Alejandro Bedoya. Arriola is playing great for Club Tijuana, and Arriola plays the type of free-flowing soccer that Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Darlington Nagbe play.
Here’s who the United States should start against Panama:
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Right Back: Geoff Cameron
Center Back: Omar Gonzalez
Center Back: Tim Ream
Left Back: Jorge Villafaña
Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley
Right Wing: Paul Arriola
Attacking Midfielder: Christian Pulisic
Left Wing: Darlington Nagbe
Forward: Jozy Altidore
Forward: Clint Dempsey