When the USA kicks off against Panama today at the StubHub Center (3 p.m. CST, ESPN, UniMas, UDN, WatchESPN), there will be almost nothing at stake.
No berths in the World Cup will hang in the balance. No player's career trajectory is likely to change. The result will be noted, tabulated, and filed without much further ado. But international friendlies are seldom as casual as they can seem - the calendar is simply too tight, and the rosters too provisional, to make any result 'just another friendly.'
Take, for example, the position of the USA prior to kickoff. Jurgen Klinsmann's second World Cup cycle is off to a staggering start - the Americans have played poorly in the second half of every match since leaving Brazil, and has displayed little comfort as Klinsmann tinkers with personnel and formations. The MLS-centric roster played very well for a half against Chile before fading badly, leading the manager to complain about the players' fitness. The team has won one of its previous nine matches.
Panama also enters the match in transition, playing against the USA for the first time since this happened:
Only three players from that game are on the roster, as club commitments in Central and South America have kept several starters off the roster. Like their American hosts, los Canaleros are using this game to examine the bona fides of several younger players, including a few who recently led the Panamanian U-20 side over the USA in U-20 World Cup Qualifying.
For Chicago fans, the game could be a chance to watch Fire keeper Sean Johnson between the sticks. Johnson has not joined the Men in Red in preseason yet, instead spending most of January with the national side. Unusually, he's the second-most experienced keeper on the roster; Kansas City homegrown Jon Kempin, just 21, could see time as well. Or Klinsmann could start Nick Rimando again. We'll know in about two hours.
Wherever you're watching the game, please use this as a live matchthread. What's working? What's not? We'd like to hear how it looks to you.
What: USA friendly vs. Panama
Where: StubHub Center, Carson, California
When: 3 p.m. CST
Where to watch: ESPN; UniMas; WatchESPN; univisiondeportes.com