There was only one acceptable outcome Friday night and Christian Pulisic was determined the United States men’s national soccer team wasn’t going to leave Orlando disappointed.
Knowing Panama would have been content to settle for a draw, the pressure was on Bruce Arena and his players. But after Pulisic scored one goal and set up another in the first 20 minutes, he and his teammates were able to settle and secure the needed result.
They went on to claim a 4-0 win that moved the U.S. past Panama into third place in the CONCACAF standings.
“We’ve come a long way and we’re well positioned to hopefully qualify for Russia,” said Arena. “Again, Trinidad is not going to be easy. We have to have our team ready to go. We’ve got to get at least a point. I think a point would assure us of third place.”
The game at Trinidad is Tuesday night, and Arena might be correct that a draw would be enough to get the United States through the qualifying process since Friday’s 4-0 win has boosted the team’s goal differential edge over Panama to seven goals.
Pulisic, the 19-year-old wonder kid, got things started in the eighth minute with a breakaway goal off a flick on pass from Jozy Altidore. A few minutes later they combined again with Pulisic skipping a pass across the goalmouth for Altidore to tap past Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo,
“Christian was superb,” Altidore said. “His ability to play in between the lines, he causes so much trouble.”
Added Arena: “We wanted to pressure them early, get out on the break and get after their back line. We actually didn’t finish well. We could have scored a lot more goals.”
Altidore added a penalty kick late in the half, earned when Bobby Wood was taken down in the box after he had pushed past two defenders. In the second half, Wood finished off the scoring with a goal in the 63rd minute.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard earned the shutout. As long as the U.S. gets at least a tie at Trinidad on Tuesday, the best Panama can do is draw even on points in the standings by beating Costa Rica. But even then, the edge would go to Arena’s squad unless Panama can overcome its massive tiebreaker disadvantage.
The only other possible threat would come if Honduras manages to beat both Costa Rica on Saturday and Mexico next Tuesday, and that’s highly unlikely because Honduras also would have to overcome a minus-12 goal differential to move past the U.S.