SEATTLE — The United States will host Panama on a temporary grass field Tuesday in its World Cup qualifier at Seattle.
The United States improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region after winning 2-1 at Jamaica last Friday. The U.S. trails Costa Rica on goal difference and is ahead of Mexico on goals scored.
In order to bring a World Cup qualifier to America's Pacific Northwest — where the weather makes 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 Monday. "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.
Panama 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 Major League Soccer and arguably the league's strongest fan base.
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 football 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 friendlies involving Manchester United, Chelsea and 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.