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U.S. soccer team seeks fill-ins for qualifier against Panama

Jermaine Jones will miss World Cup qualifier with a concussion and Graham Zusi is suspended after getting two yellow cards. Injured Herculez Gomez also will miss match against unbeaten Panama.

June 10, 2013|By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times
  • Jermaine Jones (13) will miss the World Cup qualifier with a concussion.
Jermaine Jones (13) will miss the World Cup qualifier with a concussion. (Chuck Myers / MCT )

SEATTLE — Juergen Klinsmann went 23 months and 28 matches as coach of the U.S. national soccer team before starting the same lineup in consecutive games.

The experiment didn't last long.

Klinsmann, who lost midfielders Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi in last week's win in Jamaica, will go back to the drawing board to find a starting 11 for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against unbeaten Panama at CenturyLink Field (TV: Unimas, ESPN, 7 p.m.).

Jones is out with a concussion, while Zusi is suspended a match after picking up two yellow cards. The U.S. also will be without forward Herculez Gomez, who was sent back to Southern California to receive treatment on his balky right knee, leaving Klinsmann with just 21 available players, two below the roster limit for qualifiers.

"It is always what it is. When you lose… players to injuries or yellow cards or whatever, you deal with it," Klinsmann said Monday. "The team more and more understands what we want to do here and how we fine-tune things. Also players that are maybe in the second position in their spot know now exactly what to do when they come in."

As for who those fill-ins might be, Klinsmann wasn't saying. Jones has been the midfield enforcer, so his most likely replacement would be Geoff Cameron, at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds the biggest U.S. midfielder.

Replacing Zusi's crossing ability could be tougher, but Klinsmann has several options, among them Sacha Kljestan, Joe Corona and the Seattle Sounders' Eddie Johnson.

The U.S., on the road for three of its first four matches in the final round of regional qualifying for next summer's World Cup, plays its next two games at home, where it is riding a 23-match unbeaten streak in qualifying dating to 2001. And even though the Americans are second in their six-team group, trailing Costa Rica on goal differential, U.S. captain Clint Dempsey says the games against Panama and against Honduras next Tuesday in Sandy, Utah, are huge.

"We know that's a roller-coaster trying to qualify for the World Cup and there's a lot of twists and turns," Dempsey said. "You make sure that you're taking care of business. A home game is crucial."

Panama, which has a win and three draws in its four qualifying matches, will also be short-handed Tuesday because its prolific striker Blas Perez, who is battling gastroenteritis, didn't make the trip to Seattle.

But missing players won't be the only thing both teams will have to overcome — the field conditions could be a problem. Rather than play on the stadium's FieldTurf, U.S. Soccer spent big to have the plastic field covered with natural grass. But in Saturday's Major League Soccer match between the Sounders and Vancouver, players said the temporary surface was bumpy and difficult to play on.

"The field's good," Dempsey corrected. "I'd rather play on real grass over turf than on turf. The ball rolls good. The only thing that you might notice when [the ball] bounces, it doesn't bounce as much."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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