(Reuters) - Panama’s slim hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup received a boost on Saturday when United States coach Juergen Klinsmann said he would sit out top scorer Landon Donovan for the final game of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
The U.S., who have already clinched top spot in the six nation CONCACAF standings and booked their ticket to Brazil, will rest Donovan, his country’s all-time leading scorer, with a sore ankle while midfielder Jermaine Jones will miss Tuesday’s game in Panama with a knee injury.
Everton keeper Tim Howard and Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler also have left the team as part of a planned rotation of players.
“Landon is still struggling with the ankle injury from a couple weeks ago, so he will go back to Los Angeles and try to get back to 100 percent,” said Klinsmann in a statement. “Jermaine’s case is more of a concern. His knee was bothering him all night but he battled through.
“It’s clear that the issue with his knee is something that should be taken care of right away so he can be 100 percent for Schalke and the national team as soon as possible.”
All this is good news for Panama which sits fifth, three points back of fourth place Mexico, which is also fighting for automatic qualification.
The top three CONCACAF teams qualify automatically for the World Cup finals with the fourth advancing to a two-leg playoff against Oceania winners New Zealand.
To nudge into fourth spot Panama, would need a multi-goal win against the U.S. and a Mexico loss, or a single-goal victory and a Mexico loss in which they scored fewer than four goals.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Gene Cherry