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U.S. Is One Win From Final Round

"They're one of those teams that is very scrappy and they get to the second balls -- they thrive on that," Pope said. "They love putting a lot of balls into the box and we've got to play well defensively. . . . It's going to be a huge, huge battle for 90 minutes."

Arena wouldn't reveal his starting lineup, but Manchester United's Tim Howard appears set to start in goal after Kasey Keller got the nod last weekend. The last time the Americans played two games in five days, Howard started at home and the more experienced Keller was the choice on the road.

U.S.'s Frank Hejduk, left to right, Clint Mathis, Brian McBride and Josh Wolff celebrate McBride's goal in a win over El Salvador on Oct. 9. The U.S. team can advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup with a victory over Panama tonight at RFK Stadium. (Luis Rivera -- Reuters)

_____U.S. vs. Panama_____

Group Standings: U.S. 2-0-2, Panama 1-1-2, Jamaica 1-1-2, El Salvador 1-3 (El Salvador plays at Jamaica tonight).

U.S. Roster (clubs in parentheses): GKs Kasey Keller (Tottenham Hotspur, England) and Tim Howard (Manchester United, England)*; Ds Frankie Hejduk (Columbus)*, Eddie Pope (New York/New Jersey)*, Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus, Germany)*, Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham, England)*, Bobby Convey (Reading, England) and Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege, Belgium).

MFs Landon Donovan (San Jose)*, Kerry Zavagnin (Kansas City)*, Cobi Jones (Los Angeles), Tony Sanneh (Columbus), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands)*, Eddie Lewis (Preston North End, England)*, Clint Mathis (Hannover, Germany); Fs Brian McBride (Fulham, England)*, Josh Wolff (Kansas City)*, Eddie Johnson (Dallas), Conor Casey (Mainz, Germany).

*probable starters

"Obviously, there are not going to be radical changes," Arena said, "but there will be changes."

U.S. Notes: With a baseball team coming to Washington next year, this could be the final time the American squad plays a major match at RFK.

D.C. United plans to continue playing there, but new scheduling challenges, altered seating arrangements and a disrupted playing surface could end the U.S. team's run in Washington until a proposed soccer stadium is built.

"As long as there isn't an infield here and a pitcher's mound [at RFK tonight], I'm fine with it," Arena joked.

The U.S. team is 9-3-3 at RFK since 1991, but in its last qualifier there, it lost to Honduras, 3-2, three years ago. . . .

The Americans are enjoying an 11-game unbeaten streak (7-0-4), the longest in program history. Their last loss came against the Netherlands, 1-0, in Amsterdam in February. They've also gone 27 straight games without a loss to a regional opponent, dating from a 2-0 loss at Costa Rica in September 2001. . . .

Organizers are anticipating a crowd of about 20,000 tonight and are advising fans to arrive early to avoid rush-hour traffic jams and lines at will-call windows.

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