USMNT to open Berhalter era with January friendly against Panama

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Gregg Berhalter Columbus Crew
USA Today
With a new head coach in place, the U.S. will face a familiar foe in Arizona.

The U.S. national team now has a head coach after Gregg Berhalter officially assumed the role. Now, the first match of the Berhalter era is officially on the schedule.

At Tuesday's press conference introducing Berhalter as manager, U.S. Soccer announced that the USMNT is set to face Panama on January 27 in Glendale, Arizona in what will be the former Columbus Crew manager's first match in charge.

The match will precede a game against Costa Rica, which is scheduled for February 2 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California as the second friendly of the annual January camp. 

Berhalter was named the U.S. coach on Sunday following a 13-month search, one that saw the U.S. play without a full-time boss following the resignation of Bruce Arena in the aftermath of the team's World Cup qualifying failure.

Dave Sarachan led the group in the meantime, compiling a 3-5-4 record in a period that was very much seen as a rebuilding year.

Now, Berhalter will be tasked with formulating a plan after what amounted to a 13-month stretch of running in place with new faces entering the fray.

He'll start with the annual January camp, one which is generally based around out-of-season MLS call-ups as the matches do not fall on a FIFA-regulated international fixture date.

European stars are often left with their respective clubs during the camp, which is used as an opportunity to integrate new players while keeping MLS-based stars in shape ahead of the regular season.

A total of 35 MLS-based players were called up in 2018 under Sarachan, with 17 of those players only earning call-ups for January's scoreless draw with Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The match against Panama will see the USMNT face a team that qualified ahead of them in the Hexagonal as Los Canaleros advanced to their first World Cup.

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In Russia, Panama fell in all three matches, losing to Belgium, Tunisia and England while scoring two goals in the group stage.

The teams' most recent meeting was a lopsided U.S. win, as the USMNT cruised to a 4-0 victory in October 2017 before a loss to Trinidad & Tobago just four days later that knocked them out of the World Cup.