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USMNT-Panama preview: Leaping the Canaleros

United States v Panama: Group B - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup

NASHVILLE, TN - JULY 08: Goaltender Brad Guzan #1 of USA looks at the ball as teammate Omar Gonzalez #3 defends in front of the net during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer match at Nissan Stadium on July 8, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

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Got nerves?

The United States men’s national team hasn’t had a lot to fear from home matches against Panama, but few if any have held the import of Friday’s visit from Los Canaleros.

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 keys vs. Panama ]

A loss assures the United States’ only path to Russia goes through an intercontinental playoff against Australia or Syria, and that’s if the Yanks outdo Honduras’ results over the next week.

A draw means the Yanks will need a win in Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday and a Panama loss or draw versus visiting Costa Rica.

A win, well, a win would be great.

Three points boosts the Yanks ahead of Panama and into an automatic qualifying place (assuming Honduras doesn’t erase eight goals of differential on Friday in Costa Rica which, no, will not happen).

We’ve covered the mental angle here, as the U.S. will have to play in-form in consecutive matches for the first time in a while, simultaneously dealing with the pressure of knowing it could become the first generation of Americans to miss a World Cup in 32 years.

The Americans will not have John Brooks to pair with Geoff Cameron in the heart of the defense, leaving coach Bruce Arena to decide his center back duo between Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Tim Ream.

They also won’t have Jordan Morris, meaning the strike corps dips even more after Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, and Clint Dempsey (the latter of which could be saved as more of an attacking midfield threat). Juan Agudelo and Chris Wondolowski complete the forward group. Agudelo has never played in a World Cup qualifier, while Wondolowski has yet to face T&T in his career.

Panama has allowed just five goals through eight Hex matches, and drew the Yanks 1-1 in Panama. The two sides met in the Gold Cup, another 1-1 draw, with much different sides.

It’s no surprise that Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, and Jozy Altidore are the keys to this one. With all respect to the the problems at the back, an American attack overpowering Panama is the best way to three points.

This is a veteran Canaleros side which won’t be intimidated by their task and will know a win cements its legacy as the first Panamanian team to qualify for a World Cup. Game on.

Follow @NicholasMendola