USA ready for physical Panama in Copa América group match

ATLANTA — United States coach Gregg Berhalter said that his team is ready for whatever Panama might try in Thursday’s Copa América group-stage match — including any chippiness, a relative staple of play in Concacaf and CONMEBOL.

“We don’t shy away from physicality,” Berhalter told reporters on Wednesday. “We like that in matches, and that’s never a problem for us. For us, it’s just about embracing whatever a particular match brings, and if it’s physicality, we’ll be fine, we’ll be able to deal with that.”

A victory for the USMNT over Panama on Thursday at Mercedees-Benz Stadium, combined with a Uruguay win or draw vs. Bolívia, would clinch the Americans a place in the knockout stage ahead of the group finale against Uruguay next week.

Berhalter said midfielder Tyler Adams is available for selection after playing the first half on Saturday against Bolivia in his first start for the USMNT since March. Berhalter also stood by his praise of the USMNT’s tournament-opening victory over Bolivia after analyzing the film.

Panama is one of the USMNT’s most familiar opponents and it holds a 17-2-7 record against the Soca Warriors, including 6-1-5 in tournament play — all of which have previously come in the Concacaf Gold Cup.

Panama prevailed in a penalty shootout in the teams’ most recent meeting in last year’s Gold Cup semifinal and enters Thursday’s match in need of a result after falling 3-1 to Uruguay on Saturday.

“I definitely expect a team that’s going to compete really well,” USMNT midfielder Yunus Musah said. “They’re really aggressive, they’re really fit, really strong team [that’s] got a lot of quality as well, so I just expect that the game will be really intense.”

There is familiarity among the coaches, too. Berhalter said he knows Panama manager Thomas Christiansen well and could see some of what he was trying to get his team to do in Panama’s tournament opener against Uruguay.

“From what we’ve been seeing, they have a lot of consistency with the group that they’ve been playing, especially the guys up top,” Berhalter said. “[The] back line has changed a little bit, but really athletic wing-backs that like to attack the cross the ball, central midfielders that like to control the game. So, to us, it’s a cohesive unit and it’ll be a good game.”