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US U-20s vs. Panama match preview: Young Yanks kick off CONCACAF championship

The US U-20 team faces Panama in their first group match of the tournament

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York Red Bulls
Cristian Martinez with Columbus Crew
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship finally opens for the US on Saturday in a match against a struggling team from Panama. The surprise team from the 2015 edition of the championship, Panama defeated the US in a tight 1-0 match during group play and went on to win the group with the US finishing second behind them.

However, the 2017 version of the Panama U-20 team has struggled during final preparations. They finished 4th in the 5 team Central American qualifying tournamnet in November and would not have qualified but 3rd place Guatamala is under suspension by FIFA. They split two matches with the Canada U-20s late in January and then lost two and tied a third against reserve teams in Columbia during the first week of February.

Following the camp in Colombia, with just over a week to go before the tournament and after he had already delivered a final roster to CONCACAF, the team’s long-term coach, Leonardo Pipino, resigned and left the team apparently in dispute with Panamanian federation officials. Nelson Gallego, a 63-year-old technical assistant with the full Panama MNT has been appointed to replace him and has spent the week attempting to come up to speed with the team.

“The last cycle Panama was the best team in the tournament and they happened to lose to Mexico on penalties in the final, but they were the best team. We have a tough one to start, I’m not sure if they’re the best ones this time, but I know with the group they had the last time, this is going to be a very tough team for us to start the tournament with. Our approach, like I told the players here, is that we’re not going to get to the final here if we don’t win the first final. We’re likely not to get there. We’re approaching this game as the only game we’re worrying about at this point and then once we get past this one, we’ll worry about whoever the next opponent is. Our only concern is Panama.” — Tab Ramos - Coach US U-20 MNT

Finally on the 16th during the final day of practice before leaving for Costa Rica, José Luis Rodríguez, a member of the U-21 team at KAA Gent in Belgium 1st Division and a likely starter, suffered an injury to his right knee resulting in an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, medial meniscus lesion and medial collateral ligament associated bone contusion. Leaving only Cristian Martínez, who headed home a goal in his debut game for the Columbus Crew while on loan in 2016, with foreign experience.

As nearly all quotes from their new head coach stress the importance of defense, it should be safe to expect that Panama will attempt to bunker in on defense and play to quickly counterattack against the US team which will have to display quickness and creativity up top to score and prevail.

Here is the current Panama roster for those who might what to follow the action on Saturday.

Goalkeepers

Aldo Ciel - United Arab Dep.

Charles Taylor - London University (ENG)

Defenders

Jiovanny Ramos - San Francisco FC

Andrés Andrade - San Francisco FC

César Blackman - Chorrillo FC

Javier Rivera - Tauro FC

Jorge Gutiérrez - Tauro FC

Josué Vergara - CD Plaza Amador

Midfielders

Ricardo Ávila - Chorrillo FC

Andrés Peñalba - Chorrillo FC

Chamell Asprilla - Arabe Unido FC

Cristian Martínez - Columbus Crew (USA)

Justin Simons - San Francisco FC

José Tejada - Tauro FC

Adalberto Carrasquilla - Tauro FC

Yair Jaén - Costa del Este FC

Attackers

Ronaldo Córdoba - Tauro FC

Oliver Beckles - Tauro FC

Leandro Ávila - IWCC University (USA)

Isidoro Hinestroza - San Francisco FC