The U.S. Men’s National Team moved one step closer to the World Cup on Friday night by stepping up in the biggest game of the qualifying cycle.
Entering Friday, the USMNT’s World Cup status was very much in doubt, but that doubt was all but removed in a 4-0 shellacking of visiting Panama in Orlando. The match saw a pair of goals from Jozy Altidore, a goal and an assist from Christian Pulisic and a finish from Bobby Wood to vault the USMNT up to third in the Hex.
The USMNT came out of the gates hot, and that hot start led to an early goal. Just moments after a Panama chance, Altidore and Bobby Wood combined to flick a pass towards Pulisic. The 19-year-old attacker rounded Jaime Penedo, firing into an open net to open the scoring.
Pulisic provided on the second goal, firing an assist from the left-hand side. After beating his defender, Pulisic fired a pass across the box, leaving Altidore with a simple finish for 2-0.
The third came just before the halftime whistle as Wood was dragged down by Armando Cooper just inside the box. Altidore stepped up and scored via a Panenka, finishing off an ideal first half for the U.S.
Pulisic was taken out early in the second half, but it was more of the same for the USMNT. Wood pushed the lead to four in the 63rd minute on a Paul Arriola assist.
It was a dominant performance from the attacking group, who stepped up after scoring just one goal in September qualifiers. The Panama defense was on its heels throughout the opening half with Penedo making one-on-one saves on both Altidore and Wood to keep the scoreline from getting completely out of hand.
Defensively, the U.S. had nervy moments of their own as the match opened up late in the first half. However, the backline did just enough to keep Panama quiet and seal a massive shutout win with a World Cup on the line.
With the win, the USMNT moves up to third in the Hex, two points ahead of Panama. Because of the swing in goal differential, a draw on Tuesday against Trinidad & Tobago would more than likely be enough to seal the USMNT’s spot in Russia. Panama, meanwhile, faces off with Costa Rica in their final match of the Hex needing a win to stay alive for an automatic berth.