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US faces Panama in World Cup qualifying

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POSTED June 11, 2013 1:52 a.m.

SEATTLE (AP) — Ask FIFA and the organization says it sees no problem with playing on a quality artificial field.

U.S. Soccer still does.

“I’d rather play on real grass over turf than to play on turf,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said Monday.

Playing on a temporary grass field is the situation that will face the United States on Tuesday night when its plays Panama in a World Cup qualifier at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. The U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region after winning at Jamaica last Friday night 2-1. The U.S. trails Costa Rica (2-1-1) on goal difference and is ahead of Mexico (1-0-4) on goals scored.

In order to bring a World Cup qualifier to the Pacific Northwest — where artificial surfaces are almost required — putting down a temporary grass surface was a condition. Seattle obliged, but the surface was far from ideal.

“When you talk about playing home games in World Cup qualifying, especially for us, you’d like to be playing on a field where it’s cut real short and you’re able to get some water on the field before the game and that creates just a fast, wet surface that is conducive to how we want to play,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Look, clearly there are a lot of things that go into making these decisions. Seattle certainly deserves a game, but I think the field unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.”

A win over Panama coupled with a victory next week in Utah against Honduras could give the Americans control of the qualifying group. The U.S. is 8-1-2 all-time against Panama, which is expected to be without leading scorer Blas Perez because of gastroenteritis.

“It’s a huge game. We badly want three points in this game and then obviously next week in Salt Lake,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Those are home games and they are must wins.”

Bringing a qualifier to Seattle was a goal for U.S. Soccer, trying to capitalize on the resounding success of the Seattle Sounders in the MLS and arguably the league’s strongest fan base. Dempsey noted that after the team arrived in Seattle on Saturday he went out for dinner and noticed TVs everywhere were tuned to the Sounders game against Vancouver.

“It’s great to see the game is building and there are markets like this where people have so much passion for the game,” Dempsey said. “I almost felt like I was in another country the other day when the Seattle Sounders game was on.”

Tuesday’s match with Panama will be the first World Cup qualifier played in Seattle since 1976. But making the commitment to bring any major soccer match to Seattle comes with a host of logistical obstacles, none larger than the playing surface.

The Sounders play on a bouncy, fast artificial surface. The venue is accustomed to undertaking the task of putting in a grass field over the top of the artificial surface, having done so for international exhibitions involving Manchester United, Chelsea and FC Barcelona. When the U.S. held its first training session on the surface Sunday, it was already showing signs of wear after the Sounders played Vancouver the night before. The center of the field was churned up and seams were noticeable. The field was installed the middle of last week.

“Obviously, it comes in in trays and doesn’t have a lot of time to kind of gel together so you look for spots on the field that may tear up easily and avoid them if possible,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said.

Aside from the temporary field, the Americans will be forced to make significant changes to their midfield. Klinsmann finally fielded an identical starting lineup in consecutive games when the same 11 took the field to start against Germany and again at Jamaica.

Injuries and suspensions will force changes against Panama. Jermaine Jones will be held out after suffering a concussion against Jamaica and Graham Zusi, who assisted on Jozy Altidore’s opening goal, will sit on Tuesday because of yellow card accumulation. Asked how he would fill those spots, Klinsmann listed a number of options, capped with “we have a pretty good idea how we want to start tomorrow, which I won’t tell you.”

“This is always what it is when you go through this amount of games, if it’s injury, if it’s yellow card, if it’s what it is and you deal with it,” Klinsmann said.

Notes: Klinsmann announced F Herculez Gomez has been sent to Los Angeles for individual fitness work and treatment. No replacement will be added before Tuesday’s match. ... DeMarcus Beasley underwent a root canal on Monday morning but was on the field for training in the afternoon. ... After getting the save in the New York Yankees’ win on Sunday over the Seattle Mariners, closer Mariano Rivera, a native of Panama, signed jerseys and posed for photos with Jorge Valdes, assistant coach of Panama’s national team, team general manager Rolo Gonzalez, and team Vice President Ramon Cardoze.

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