he United States men's national team has a golden opportunity on Sunday to earn a bit of separation in World Cup qualifying when the team visits Panama at 6 p.m. ET on Paramount+. The Americans are coming off a fine 2-0 win over Jamaica, with Ricardo Pepi once again delivering, while the Panamanians recently suffered a 1-0 loss as El Salvador.
A victory for the U.S. could open up a six-point advantage above fourth-place in qualifying, with that spot going to the intercontinental playoff when all is said and done.
Ahead of the game, here are three things to watch, a predicted XI and more:
1. Time to rotate
There is expected to be a lot of rotation in the starting XI for the U.S. simply out of necessity. With some of these windows featuring three games due to the condensed schedule, you have to give minutes to other players and have your depth tested in order to avoid overworking them. After the first qualifier in September, coach Gregg Berhalter made six changes to his starting XI, and a similar number should be expected here. We know at least two changes will have to be made as Antonee Robinson (travel restrictions between Panama and U.K.) and Weston McKennie (quad injury) didn't travel with the team after starting against Jamaica.
On top of that, I expect Paul Arriola to be on the bench for this next match, and perhaps Sergino Dest as well.
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2. Weah could have himself a big game
While that depth will be tested, U.S. fans should be good about the replacements. Tim Weah looked fantastic off the bench against Jamaica, and one would think he gets a start here based on what he showed. With Panama's defense lacking discipline and often stabbing in at tackles when it isn't needed, I suspect Weah will have a big game against them just because of his technical ability that will free him into space, allowing him to use his pace. If he gets the start at left wing, expect a goal or an assist from the Lille man.
3. Richards should get minutes in a massive spot
There is no defender in the talent pool like Chris Richards. A prominent person in the sport recently compared him to France legend Lilian Thurham in a conversation we had. That is something else. There is a long way to go in his development, but there is no doubt he has everything that is needed to be a starting center-back for the team at next year's World Cup. But his time needs to start now. Richards should start one of the last two games, and why not give him a taste of a road match in Concacaf for his very first qualifier? He's played in the Champions League for Bayern Munich, so no moment will be too big. But his ability to play with both feet could be critical here with Panama applying pressure in attack. If he plays, keep an eye on him because he can do a bit of everything and is a threat on attacking set pieces.