United States (-187) vs Panama (+260), Draw (+500)
The race for the three CONCACAF World Cup qualification spots is coming down to the wire. After eight games, Mexico (18 points) are guaranteed qualification while Trinidad and Tobago (3 points) have been ruled out of contention. Costa Rica (15 points) are sitting comfortably in second and will likely finish the round within the top three. So the real battle is between the other three nations — Panama (10 points), USA (9 points), and Honduras (9 points) — who are all vying for one spot with just two fixtures remaining.
The match between the United States and Panama on Friday, October 6th, in Florida will be a decisive moment for both teams.
The USMNT had a disastrous start to the fifth round of qualification, opening with a 2-1 loss to Mexico followed by a 4-0 implosion against Costa Rica. As a result, Jurgen Klinsmann was shown the door and in came Bruce Arena to reverse course.
We’ve seen a mild improvement since, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done. Under Arena, the US drew with Mexico and lost again to Costa Rica. They managed to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, but it was ultimately a tournament of little consequence. If the US doesn’t rally and finish in the top three, it will mark the first time since 1986 that the team has failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Conversely, if Panama can fend off Honduras and the United States, they’ll qualify for their first ever World Cup. The low-scoring team has a rock-solid defense with a back line that includes a handful of notable MLS defenders — Sounders center back Román Torres, Dynamo recruit Adolfo Machado, and Red Bulls young’ens Michael Murillo and Fidel Escobar.
The last time the two nations met, they played to a 1-1 stalemate. It was a nervous game and neither side ever really found its footing. Some brilliant work from rising star Christian Pulisic and USMNT poster boy Clint Dempsey opened the scoring in the 39th minute, but Panama responded shortly after with a goal in the 43rd. It was an evenly-matched game; both sides had chances to clinch the win but neither could land the final blow.
The US roster is deeper and the Americans have home-field advantage, so naturally the top sportsbooks have given them a favorable line. I’m inclined to side with the favorite on this one. The US has experienced a slow but steady improvement under Arena, and the joint forces of Pulisic, Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore should prove too much even for an impressive Panama defense.
Pick: United States (-187)