United States rout Panama, inch closer to WC berth

Arena at the 2006 World Cup

Christian Pulisic (L) shoots against Keylor Navas of Costa Rica during the Federation Internationale de Football Association 2018 World Cup Qualifier at Red Bull Arena on September 1, 2017 in Harrison, N.J.

Wood showed his skillful side to score the fourth goal by collecting a nice cross from Arriola - whose bustling work and constant pressure added to the benefits of direct play - and twisted clear to shoot low inside the far post. Fourth place enters an intercontinental playoff against either Australia or Syria.

Notes: First-place Mexico, which clinched last month, rallied to beat visiting Trinidad 3-1 on goals by Hirving Lozano, Javier Hernández and Hector Herrera after Shahdon Winchester had put the visitors ahead. There was a 20-minute or so spell after the second goal when the squad shut off and the defense looked susceptible to a goal, as it's been so many times in qualifying. Sure Costa Rica had beaten the U.S. 4-0 in their game in Central America, but the USA had beaten them 4-0 last summer and in the Gold Cup this past summer and was riding a 15 game unbeaten streak since Bruce Arena became the USMNT's head coach again. After a resounding 4-0 win against Panama in one of the most raucous venues in M.L.S., a trip to the 2018 FIFA World Cup is now within reach. A draw would change nothing between the two.

After the disastrous loss however, the USA rebounded to get a 1-1 draw at Honduras four days later. That hasn't been the case this time though, and that has fans facing two nail-biting final qualifying matches. "I know everyone thought we were going to qualify in six games in 2017". Instead, a pro-Tico crowd saw the United States get countered to death in a 2-0 loss.

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He has already become the youngest American to score in the Bundesliga at age 17, the youngest player to score for the US and the youngest to score in an American World Cup qualifier - all before he reached age 18. Panama, which had boldly fielded an attacking 4-4-2 diamond in an attempt to secure their first World Cup berth, left themselves exposed on the counter and Pulisic led breakout after breakout dancing around defenders just as the Portuguese legend did a generation ago. We faced challenging conditions in Honduras and Panama so we will be ready. Panama worked the ball well from left to right before Gabriel Torres rifled a shot that the veteran netminder pushed away. Panama was out, and Mexico was the one that would face New Zealand. This was Panama, after all, in Florida on a hot night in October. Arena was likely swayed by Johnson's scant number of appearances for Borussia Mönchengladbach, although Johnson did log 90 minutes in a league win this weekend.

With a win, the USMNT would all but punch their ticket to Russian Federation next year - and playing against an inferior opponent on American soil in Orlando, the Americans should win.

Looking ahead, the United States' chances of ending up in Russian Federation are far more promising than they were coming out of the September matches. Trinidad has three points and is all-but-eliminated. As of right now, Soccer Power Index gives the USMNT an 83 percent chance of qualifying. A win would put the USMNT on the cusp of qualification while a loss would put them in a somewhat precarious position. From the opening whistle, the aggressive USA attack set the tempo and the tone for the match. It had been 12 years since the Americans faced such stress in the final round and, regardless of Friday's outcome, their fate would be decided in the 10th and final match.

Bobby Wood also contributed to the USA cause, scoring the game's final tally in the second half and drawing a penalty kick late in the first. Right now soccer is growing at a rapid pace and the World Cup will be a great opportunity to speed up the growth even more. I still think the USMNT will beat Panama's ass and qualify for the World Cup, even if it wouldn't be out of character for them to lose.

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