Just as USA men are fighting to hang on


US national team fans have spent the better part of the past month thinking about just how much is riding on Friday's World Cup qualifier between the United States and Panama, including the nightmare scenario that a loss would produce. "From the get-go in this Hex, we've been in a situation where our back has been up against the wall, and we've played in games where we need to win, we need points and there's been a real sense of urgency".

"Certainly from our standpoint, we expect a very motivated team, a group of guys that will come in here and be ready to give everything to keep their dream of going to a World Cup alive".

Promising new prospects like Arroyo are coming through as the Central American nation evolves from a baseball-centric sports culture to one that reveres the lovely game.

They likely will need a win against the Panamanians followed by a victory or a draw Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago.

'We all understand what needs to be done, how we need to step out on the field, the focus that we need to have, the match intensity we need to have throughout the 90-minutes plus'.

Honduras, who are also on nine points with the USA, play a Costa Rican side who will qualify in second place behind unassailable group leaders Mexico if they get at least a point, also remain in the mix. The fourth-place team will face Syria or Australia in a playoff. "It's a matter of everybody just being a little more confident, taking a little bit more risk in the final third". That was until the US scored two late goals to win the match 3-2, killing Panama's chances to advance, and instead, sending Mexico through to a playoff (which they won to enter the World Cup). Bradley became the first American manager in England's Premier League and has been hired to lead Los Angeles' Major League Soccer expansion team that starts play next year.

On paper, the US has enough talent and pedigree to get the victories in Orlando and Couva, Trinidad.

"I think they'll be very aggressive coming at us - fouling, looking to get out on the break and trying to create some chances off restarts", USA coach Bruce Arena told ussoccer.com.

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Fouls on Pulisic prompted Arena to criticise Mexican referee Cesar Ramos and he said: 'I think Panama thought there was a bull's-eye on his back'.

"It is to be expected", Pulisic said. In a cycle where the results have often come from grinding, the next two games they will have to dominate.

Heading into his first worldwide match since turning 19 on September 18, Pulisic has developed into the top American player since making his debut in Germany's Bundesliga in January 2016.

Big plays from veteran Sporting Kansas City player Benny Feilhaber has played many global games. "He's very relaxed. He's fine".

The USMNT have an 11-1-6 (W-L-D) all-time record against Panama heading into Friday's match, which reflects their superior quality. Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, defender Felipe Baloy and forward Luis Tejada are all 36, part of a talented generation running out of time. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder was given a hard time of it when the two teams playedout a 1-1 draw in Panama six months ago - Arena furious was furious at the treatment the teenager was subjected to.

However, Graham Zusi scored a stoppage time goal to get a draw and save Mexico.

For the USA not to participate at the World Cup for the first time since 1986 would be a hammer-blow for North America and its soccer infrastructure which has grown immeasurably over the past decade. After two years, 14 matches, a coaching change when Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann and plenty of head scratching, it now boils down to two must-win games and one key factor.