The U.S. Men’s National Team faces Panama on Matchday 4 of the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; beIN Sports, Telemundo, NBC Universo).
Here are five things you should know about Los Canaleros ahead of Tuesday’s match.
Few CONCACAF nations have experienced the type of rise that Panama has during the last 12 years. Dubbed Los Canaleros for their connection to the world-famous canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama went on a Cinderella run to the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final where they fell on penalty kicks to a Bruce Arena-led U.S. side.
Also part of CONCACAF’s Final Round World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal for the first time that year, Panama has advanced to the Hex three of the last four qualifying campaigns and came painstakingly close to finishing fourth in 2013 (more on that down the page).
That same year, Panama once again arrived in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, where Brek Shea’s game-winner delivered the U.S. a 1-0 victory at Soldier Field.
Always posing a threat no matter the opponent, Panama’s recent growth is undeniable, moving from being ranked No. 100 in 2004 to 53 in the latest FIFA World Rankings.
The Here and Now
Under the management of former Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala head coach Hernán Darío Gómez since 2014, Panama has continued to make progress. But for some questionable calls against Mexico in the semifinal of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Los Canaleros would have arrived in their second-straight confederation championship match. Instead they faced the United States in the Third Place Match, which they eventually won on penalty kicks.
Since then, Panama qualified for the Hex with ease, finishing second to Costa Rica in Semifinal Round Group B. They began the Final Round quite well, earning a 1-0 away win at Honduras on Nov. 11 before drawing 0-0 at home against Mexico four days later.
Panama comes into Tuesday’s match still in third place after falling 1-0 on the road at Trinidad & Tobago. With the U.S. lurking just one point behind, the game at Estadio Rommel Fernandez has the potential to serve as a six-pointer should either team win.
History with the U.S. MNT
The U.S. holds a dominant 11-1-4 all-time advantage against Panama, going 5-0-1 in World Cup Qualifying and 2-0-1 in qualifiers played in Panama City. Despite the U.S. edge, the series has been much closer in recent years, with Panama earning its first and only win against the MNT during the Group Stage of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, as well as drawing the team twice at the 2015 tournament. Eight of the meetings have been decided by one goal or less.
Beyond those results, U.S. and Panama fans will best remember the MNT’s last visit to Panama City about three-and-a-half years ago. Playing the last game of the Hex and already qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. traveled to face a Panama side that could earn the region’s berth in an Intercontinental Playoff with New Zealand if they won that night.
Panama thought they got the goal they needed when Luis Tejada gave the home side a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute. Unwilling to surrender to a defeat despite not needing a result, the U.S. responded with two goals in stoppage time, one from Graham Zusi in the second minute of added time and then a bullet from Aron Johannsson a minute later. The loss destroyed Panama’s hopes, and instead helped regional rivals Mexico squeak into fourth place.
Connections to M.L.S.
A number of Panama players have been great additions to the M.L.S. clubs over the years. The Panama roster features current Seattle Sounders FC captain Román Torres, as well as fellow defenders Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo) and Amir Murillo (New York Red Bulls). In midfield, is Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley’s Toronto FC teammate Armando Cooper, San Jose Earthquakes start Aníbal Godoy and New York City FC’s Miguel Camargo.
- READ MORE: MNT Talks the Need to #Get3More vs. Panama
Now based with Dynamo Bucharest in Romania, goalkeeper Jaime Penedo played parts of three seasons under current MNT head coach Bruce Arena with the LA Galaxy, while forward Blas Pérez spent time with FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Former U.S. youth international Tony Taylor also played for New England Revolution and New York City FC.
Panama League Scene
Professional soccer in Panama didn’t get formalized until 1988 when the Asociación Nacional Pro-Fútbol league was started. The league evolved in its competition format through the years and switched to become the Liga Panameña de Fútbol in 2009.
Like many Central and South American leagues, the 10-team LPF holds two competitions to make up the overall season (the Apertura and Clausura), with the top four teams in each campaign advancing to a two-leg semifinal playoff, before holding a one-game final.
Árabe Unido, who MNT players Kellyn Acosta and Walker Zimmerman recently help FC Dallas defeat in the Quaterfinal of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League, won the Apertura championship in December, while Tauro lead the current Clausura table.
The U.S. Men's National Team and Panama play their first match in nearly two years on March 28 at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City. Before catching the game Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on beIN Sports, Telemundo and NBC Universo, take our 10-question quiz centering around the MNT's interesting history against Los Canaleros:
How'd you do? Tell us you score in the comments below. Read more
After two tough losses to begin the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying back in November, the U.S. Men’s National Team came into Friday’s home match against Honduras with a simple message:
By the 54th minute, they had peppered six goals in the back of the net and rode that score line to the final whistle, setting a record for the largest margin of victory in the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying since CONCACAF adopted the current format in advance of the 1998 tournament.
The victory not only provided a boost of confidence, but coming after a bitter 4-0 defeat at Costa Rica in November, it also served as a reminder to the rest of the region what the U.S. was capable of all along.
- READ MORE: Clint Dempsey has storybook return to the MNT vs. Honduras
- WATCH: Full highlights from the MNT's 6-0 win vs. Honduras
“I think it’s a statement game for sure,” said veteran MNT defender Geoff Cameron. “I don’t think we expected to win 6-0, but I think we just overall finished amazing tonight. Every opportunity we had we finished, and that’s very clinical. I think overall we pressured the ball and made it difficult. It was a great all-around game for everybody. We knew it was a big game for us. It was a must win and we took advantage of that.”
As Cameron points out, the MNT was efficient going forward, converting six of their eight shots on goal. In defense, Tim Howard made four saves while the MNT midfield and back line often frustrated the Honduras attack. The U.S. has yet to surrender a goal during Arena’s current tenure, posting three straight shutouts.
“It’s three points,” said U.S. captain Michael Bradley. “It’s the first step in terms of getting ourselves back in a good position in the table. We’ve waited a long time for tonight, especially given the way the two games went in November. I thought across the board, every guy stepped on the field tonight with the right mentality, ready to give everything to make sure we walked off the field with three points.”
Having begun the day at the bottom of the six-team Hexagonal, the U.S. jumped up to fourth place by the end of the night thanks to the win and other results around the region. Now they head south to Panama in search of a result on the road that can push them even higher.
“We can build off tonight and we know it’s going to be a tough game down in Panama,” said Cameron. “We’re not expecting to win 6-0 like we did tonight, but we know it’s wide open now with the results that happened. We know if we take care of business in Panama, we can climb the table and get back to where we belong.”
Bradley added, “I think tonight’s a good first step in terms of re-establishing a lot of things for our group in terms of who we are and what we’re about. We move on and get ourselves ready for Panama where we want to get three more.”Read more
After being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in late August and undergoing two procedures to correct last fall, there were points during the last six months where Clint Dempsey thought he might never play soccer again.
But cleared to resume game action last month, the 32-year-old announced his return to the U.S. Men’s National Team on Friday night, recording his second career hat trick to put an exclamation point on a crucial 6-0 World Cup Qualifying victory against Honduras.
“You don’t know how things are going to work, if you’re going to come back for Seattle or if you’re going to do well enough to get called back for the U.S.,” Dempsey told reporters following the match. “There’s moments where you’re sitting at home and you’re praying that things will work out. I’m just blessed that I can keep going. It’s what I love to do and we’ll see what’s left.”
Given Friday’s performance, there appears to be a lot left for Dempsey, who wasn’t even slated to be part of the MNT roster a month ago as head coach Bruce Arena originally took a cautious approach with his return to the field.
Needing three points from Friday’s match and seeing Dempsey’s early-season form with Seattle Sounders FC, Arena had a change of heart and elected to bring the veteran forward to camp with the idea that he would play a reduced role. When Bobby Wood and Sounders FC teammate Jordan Morris picked up injuries playing with their clubs last weekend, that plan also changed.
Dempsey told reporters he knew he was starting on Wednesday and when Arena asked how long he would be able to go against Honduras, he replied, “I’ll give you all the minutes I can.”
In the end, he went the full 90 and pushed past Jozy Altidore to re-gain the title as the USA’s goal scoring leader in World Cup Qualifying with 17. His 53rd, 54th and 55th international strikes also pulled him within two goals of Landon Donovan’s MNT scoring record, something he says he’s contemplated breaking.
“Yeah, it’s in your mind -- If it comes it comes, if it don’t, it don’t. I’m going to keep pushing, I’m going to keep trying to be in games and try to help the team. If you’re doing the right things you should get looks and hopefully opportunities in front of goal and be able to break it. The most important thing is to qualify for the World Cup. That’s bigger than me trying to break the record.”
According to midfielder Michael Bradley, Dempsey’s presence provided a big confidence boost for the group going into such a big match.
“Clint’s record is second to none,” said the MNT captain. “He’s been here before on all the toughest days and when you look around the locker room before the game on a night like this and you see him, you know what you’re getting. You’re going to get a guy who’s going to give everything he has for the group and his quality around the goal, nobody can ever argue. “
After getting through a health scare that threatened his career, Dempsey is most proud to simply be helping the team as it rebounds from a tough start to the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying. Friday night’s win was the first step in the turnaround, while Tuesday’s match at Panama provides another opportunity. Should the MNT make its way to Russia, the only U.S. player to score in three different World Cups will have his eye on doing it in a fourth.
“Any time you play in a World Cup it’s a dream come true. It’s one thing to say it and another thing to do it. You’ve got to stay relevant, you’ve got to stay producing and you can’t just say it and that’s going to happen. I have to be on the field and do it. I’m just taking each game as it comes and hopefully I can play a part in helping the team. That’d be great if I can be around for that.”Read more