The U.S. Men’s National Team opens its domestic 2015 schedule against Panama on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
The last meeting between the teams was on Oct. 15, 2013, in the final match of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In front of a packed house in Panama City, the game dwindled down with Panama holding a 2-1 lead and standing minutes away from booking its first trip to a FIFA World Cup.
However, Panama saw it’s Would Cup dreams dashed when MNT midfielder Graham Zusi and forward Aron Johannsson scored goals in second-half stoppage time to give the U.S. a 3-2 victory and erase the Central American’s opportunity to realize the hopes of a nation.
Almost a year-and-a-half later, the teams will reignite their burgeoning rivalry in Carson and many familiar faces will be present. For newcomers Shane O’Neill and Matt Hedges, this game will signify playing against a couple of forwards who normally are teammates and not opponents.
O’Neill will face his Colorado Rapids’ teammate Gabriel Torres, a creative forward who O’Neill knows well and believes will be a key piece for Panama up top.
“Gabi is a really good player, a technical player; he’s quick with the ball,” O’Neill said. “I think it’s one of those things when we have to get in his head earlier, stick into him and we’ll be fine. Obviously, if you give him half a chance, he’s a good finisher so we have to get closer to him around the box. He’s just a crafty player and one of those forwards who has a little bit of everything. He’s not overly fast, overly strong, but has a bit of everything in his locker. He’s not just a finisher – he’s a creator; he’s got good movements, and is good with his feet.”
Defender Shane O'Neill also trained with the USMNT during the team's 2014 January Camp that was split between Carson, Calif. and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
According to fellow MNT defender Hedges, the task of marking his own club teammate, FC Dallas forward Blas Perez, will be a similarly stringent challenge.
“He’s a crafty player,” said Hedges. “He’s big and he’s strong and he’s surprisingly good with the ball. He likes to find his teammates, he likes to check back into the midfield and bring his teammates back into play and that’s what makes him really dangerous. He’s not just a big guy up top that wants to bang around; he’s got the skill to bring his wide players into play really well.”