SOCCER U.S. squad tastes climate shift during preparation for Panama
The Panamanians need a victory if they hope to qualify for next year's World Cup.
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) -- The U.S. soccer team practiced in the morning in Salt Lake City, where it was pouring. When players got off their charter flight in Panama in the evening, it was raining, too.
Everywhere the Americans went, there were dark clouds -- even in Cancun, Mexico, where their plane stopped to refuel during its seven-hour trip.
But there was one difference -- it was 47 degrees when the Americans worked out at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where they beat Costa Rica 3-0 two days earlier. In Panama, the temperature was about 80 degrees, with the humidity at 85 percent.
More rain was forecast, meaning the field at Estadio Rommel Fernandez could be quite muddy for tonight's World Cup qualifier.
In the semifinal round last September, mud helped the United States gain a 1-1 tie. When Eddie Lewis lofted the ball and it bounced off a Panamanian player, Landon Donovan turned and mis-hit the ball on the soggy turf. The ball sliced to Cobi Jones, who scored the equalizer.
But back home at Washington's RFK Stadium one month later, the Americans routed Panama 6-0.
"A lot of it depends of the environment that you play in," midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. "A crowd is very important sometimes in a game. They can take a team out of a game."
Panama, which lost 2-0 Saturday at Trinidad and Tobago, is rapidly falling out of contention for a World Cup berth, and needs a victory over the Americans.
Mexico (3-0-1) leads the North and Central American and Caribbean's region with 10 points, one ahead of the United States (3-1). Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rica all are 1-2-1 with four points, and Panama (0-2-2) is last with two points.
Top three qualify
The top three nations qualify for the 32-team field, and the fourth-place team goes to a home-and-home playoff with the No. 5 Asian team for another berth.
"We're playing a team that needs a result," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "One point's not going to do them any good, so we need to be smart about that. The last thing we want to do is open ourselves up early in the game, but we certainly know that if we get the first goal in that game, they'll struggle."
Arena started three forwards Saturday, but the Americans tend to play more conservatively -- and tentatively -- on the road.
They were outshot 13-5 in the second half of last September's game in Panama. In March's qualifier in Mexico, U.S. players let the home team control the ball for much of the first half.
"We have in the past given too much respect to different teams, and it's cost us early in games and it then takes us a while to get us back on track," Beasley said.