It was only the fifth game in the current cycle of World Cup Qualifiers when the USA travelled to Panama in October and was handed its first defeat.
It was Los Canaleros who gave the Americans a reality check; shutting them out while Nashville SC’s Anibal Godoy scored early in the second half from a corner kick with a little help from a deflection.
With the chance to avenge that loss in Orlando’s Exploria Stadium on Sunday, this game has taken on a ton of significance, not only for the USMNT, but more more generally amongst all supporters, who know that not coming away with all the points Sunday night in Orlando could be detrimental in the Americans potentially missing out on back-to-back World Cups.
Despite the pressure, American defender Antonee “Jedi” Robinson feels that the team is ready for the challenge. Having missed out on the away fixture with Panama being a UK Covid “red list” country at the time, he will look to put things right this time around.
“I remember watching the game and we didn’t quite look ourselves,” the British born Yank said, “[as well as] changed quite a lot of the team over as well. But obviously you’ve got to give full credit to Panama; they actually played quite well.”
“You look at where they are in the table now,” he continued. “They’ve got a chance of qualifying themselves. So there’s a reason they’re up there; because they doing well this cycle.”
How the team approaches the game will make all the difference, particularly with the other critical game of the round – fourth-place Costa Rica’s visit to El Salvador – kicking off several hours earlier.
“We’re not going to go into the game thinking we’re going to win the game and qualify,” he clarified. “It’s definitely not going to be that easy especially from the past qualifying.”
“Every game is difficult, every team brings a challenge, and they’re going to be giving it their everything. So we’re going to have to want it more than them on the day and hope that that, combined with our quality, shines through and gets us the win.”
In order to be successful, and to give the American fans the knowledge of going into the last game of the cycle on the road at Costa Rica that they have already booked their tickets to the big show in Qatar at the end of the summer, they’re going to have to up their game and put away their chances, unlike what happened at the Azteca in Mexico City.
While Robinson felt that the chances should have found the back of the net, it’s not something that the team dwells on during the game.
“While you’re playing its forgotten about very quickly,” he admitted. “You might hold your hands in the air and think we should have scored but then you’re straight back at it into another play. You’ve got to get straight back at it and help to create another chance but it’s just unlucky occurrences.”
“You get in those positions and most of the time you feel like you’re going to score but there’s always those one or two chances that you miss, and unfortunately we had a couple of them in the same game which is unfortunate for us.”
“We take it as still a valuable point that we took away [from] Mexico. We move on and hope that if we create those same chances, get in those same spots that we’re on the ball and we actually do score them chances.”
Although Berhalter’s team had to go into this cycle with a couple of key omissions due to injury, the good news is that Giovanni Reyna is back and Robinson sees him as an important cog in the American machine.
“I’ve been in a few camps with him now,” he explained. “He’s a lovely kid but when he gets on the pitch he’s like a player who is incredibly comfortable with himself and its backed to the ability that he’s got.”
“It’s been unfortunate that we haven’t had him for every camp because we obviously want all our players to be available when possible. But if this is the camp where he’s going to come and make a real impact and help us seal the deal and get to the World Cup, then it’s going to be an amazing feeling.
“The kid’s got an unbelievable talent and it’s great to have him on the team,” he concluded.
Three points could be enough to qualify, should Costa Rica not win their game, and the Nats will look to do that Sunday night. The game against Panama kicks off at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.