Who Should the U.S. National Team Start against Panama in World Cup Qualifying?

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The U.S. national team needs to beat Panama in the upcoming World Cup qualifier.

They should beat Panama easily. Panama is not very good.

Bruce Arena has the option of starting an attack-minded lineup or a more balanced lineup against Panama. The attack minded lineup would be using only one defensive midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation. The more balanced lineup would be a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders.

The other option is the 4-3-3 which would feature a fluid and interchangeable attack, including Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic as wings on paper.

There has also been some discussion of the U.S. possibly using the 3-5-2 formation.

The obvious dilemma for Arena will be whether he wants a strong attack to be the team’s real defense or whether he wants so more defensive coverage in the midfield. Below World Soccer Source will back starting both Darlington Nagbe and Benny Feilhaber, and both of these players do provide plenty of defending and running. Both also know how to tackle and win back possession. Therefore, starting both of these players in a 4-1-3-2 formation isn’t skimping on defense.

The U.S. fielded a very effective lineup against Honduras back in March, and that lineup, which was in a 4-1-3-2 formation, should be the default lineup for the U.S. Sebastian Lletget, who played right wing in that game, is injured now, but the lineup can essentially be the same. John Brooks the team’s starting left center back is also injured, but the U.S. can start Matt Besler in his place.

The United States has a deeper player pool than it’s ever had, and Arena has more talent than he had the first time he coached the United States. It’s simply not true that the U.S. doesn’t have the players to dominate a team like Panama. Mexico and maybe Costa Rica is a different story, but these opponents are not elite.

You can look at other lineup predictions and proposals here.

Let’s look at who World Soccer Source thinks the U.S. should start at each position:

Goalkeeper & Defense

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are both excellent goalkeepers. Howard did make a mistake against Costa Rica, but he’s also made several impressive saves recently. He still plays like a goalkeeper who makes the saves he should make and some of the saves that he’s not expected to make.

DeAndre Yedlin is back to play right back, and on the other side you have Jorge Villafaña who still has some detractors. Villafaña always looks dangerous and active going forward down the left sideline, and he can also be seen covering for the team’s center backs when they are beat. The U.S. simply doesn’t have a better left back than him.

In the center of the defense, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler are quality starting options, and they both are technical, fast, and strong defensively. Besler is a level below Cameron, but he or Ream is the best choice to partner Cameron with Brooks out injured.

The Midfield

The best option for the U.S. is to start Michael Bradley as the one defensive midfielder with Darlington Nagbe, Benny Feilhaber, and Christian Pulisic in front of him. Nagbe and Feilhaber can be counted on to provide defensive coverage and cover plenty of territory. Anyone who watches them closely sees them dropping deep into the midfield to recover possession or to get the team’s passing started. Both also know how to win the ball back, and they don’t mind getting down and dirty. Christian Pulsic can also be counted on to play defense and press the opponent. Although the formation would be a 4-1-3-2, Bradley isn’t the only midfielder playing defense and winning back possession.


Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey are the team’s best two forwards. Dempsey is creative and clinical, and Wood provides those qualities plus plenty of movement to get into scoring positions. His speed allows him to be ever more direct than Dempsey. Wood is a better option than Jozy Altidore because Wood threatens the goal more, and he’s harder to defend. If you want the defense on its heels and more shots on goal, then Wood provides more of this. Wood’s directness and speed is more valuable than Altidore’s improved passing.

Here’s the U.S. National Team lineup described above:

Goalkeeper- Tim Howard

Right Back- DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back- Geoff Cameron

Center Back- Matt Besler

Left Back- Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder- Michael Bradley

Right Wing- Christian Pulisic

Attacking Midfielder- Benny Feilhaber

Left Wing- Darlington Nagbe

Forward- Bobby Wood

Forward- Clint Dempsey


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