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Jones, Ream, Zusi start at Panama as Arena makes changes

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Clint Dempsey scores one of his three goals against Honduras. He will be our player to watch against Panama

"He threatened to chop my man bun off", Bedoya said, smiling.

The USMNT is coming off a 6-0 rout over Honduras Friday, which pushed them up from last place into fourth place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final Qualifying Round group standings.

United States' Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring against Panama during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Panama City, Tuesday, March 28, 2017.

Panama's players also may not be used to the heat, given some play in New York, Seattle, Toronto, Switzerland, Romania and other cool climates.

Arena's sense of humor and sarcasm, on display several times in a half-hour interview at the team hotel here Monday, and his direct approach seem to have energized a group of players who had grown tired of Klinsmann's unpredictable and sometimes hawkish style.

Arena has set two rules: be on time and be respectful. "Those are the rules", he said Monday. "In my days there was nothing wrong with having a beer with one of your players".

"Yeah, it's on your mind", the 34-year-old Dempsey said. That's Bruce. It's great. He also knows it can go away just as quickly if he gets the job wrong. Bruce Arena already has the minimum he was looking for out of these March qualifiers: three points and the return of USMNT's reputation as a force to be reckoned with at home. "You've got to really stay focused and physical out there".

Injuries have not been kind to the USMNT during this World Cup qualifying cycle.

Arguably, there are three players whose continued good form will be crucial to the USA men's national soccer team's hopes of qualifying for next summer's Fifa World Cup.

Arena, who took over after the Americans lost the first two games of their qualifying campaign under Jurgen Klinsmann, was happy with the result, if not the officiating. They want to play in the World Cup.

"He does remind me of Landon, but he has a long way to go before he gets to stand next to Landon".

"Unfortunate series of injuries and illnesses, and that's all part of it", Arena said after a light training session on the practice field outside Avaya Stadium. The second half promises to be a classic. National teams come together for a week or so at a time several times a year, then gather for soccer's major championships.

Yet at the end of the night, the U.S. had climbed up to fourth place in the Hexagonal, had taken just their third qualifying result in Central America this decade, and had mostly steadied the ship that seemed ready to sink this past winter.

"He works in the NBA", Arena said. A great example of just how wild it gets, last night Panamanians pulled an all nighter to light fireworks off all around the United States hotel.

As much as tactics, a mental adjustment was required.

"If we lose tomorrow", he added, people "are going to be talking about it's too loose an atmosphere".

On a ideal night in San Jose, the United States reignited their World Cup campaign in a big way as moved from the bottom of the standings to fourth place with three points. "I'm sure it still means a lot to them".

Coverage of USA-Panama begins at 10 p.m. ET on beIN Sports, Telemundo and NBC Universo.

I think it's the latter to be perfectly honest. It was a good finish from Dempsey, but a fairly easy one.

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