With temperatures at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City expected to push toward 90 degrees for Wednesday's Gold Cup group finale between the U.S. national team and Panama, Gregg Berhalter will be hard-pressed not to incorporate some squad rotation into his lineup selection for the decisive Group D clash.
The Americans have deployed the same starting lineup for their first two group stage matches, and after beating Trinidad and Tobago 6-0, Berhalter seemed to be hedging toward the possibility of sticking with the same group for a third time. That strategy doesn't sound all that practical given the weather conditions awaiting Wednesday's match, and the short turnaround time that will see the Americans playing in the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday in Philadelphia.
That doesn't mean we will see Berhalter trot out 11 new starters either, but the U.S. coach will need to strike a balance between trying to maintain some continuity while also ensuring he doesn't set his team up for burnout in the knockout rounds.
Also at stake is first place in Group D, and the difference between having to face Jamaica in the quarterfinals and facing Curacao. A win or draw for the Americans will ensure a meeting with Curacao, which shocked Jamaica in a 1-1 draw in group play to edge past El Salvador and Honduras as the tournament's surprise quarterfinalist.
Which players should we expect to see in the lineup? Here is one lineup we could see deployed, which would include five changes to the side that won the team's first two Gold Cup matches:
The U.S. defense has posted consecutive shutouts and none of the four members of the back-line would be considered a risk for burnout, but getting the group a rest ahead of a compact knockout round schedule wouldn't be a bad thing. Aaron Long is someone Berhalter could consider giving a rest considering he has made three straight starts after being sidelined a month with a hamstring injury. Sitting Long now would help give him more time to recover ahead of the knockout rounds, which will consist of three matches in eight days if the Americans reach the final.
In the attack, Christian Pulisic should start once again, though Berhalter will want to think about sitting Weston McKennie after the hamstring injury he dealt with in the opening match of the tournament. Cristian Roldan can step in for McKennie, while Wil Trapp could start in the defensive midfield role for Michael Bradley.
At striker, Jozy Altidore should be in line for his first start of the tournament, though Berhalter could be tempted keep Gyasi Zardes in the lead striker role after his standout performance against Trinidad and Tobago, while bringing Altidore on as a sub against Panama.
Jordan Morris was outstanding in his substitute's appearance against Trinidad and Tobago and should get the call to start in place of Tyler Boyd, who has had a strong tournament so far, but could use a rest after having come into the tournament off an injury.
In goal, Berhalter could hand a start to Sean Johnson in order to give Zack Steffen a rest, but it seems unlikely we would see a change in goal and in the back four.