USA Beats Panama in World Cup Qualifier Behind Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2017

United States' Christian Pulisic (10) celebrates after scoring a goal against Panama during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

The United States took a massive step toward qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a 4-0 victory over Panama on Friday night at Orlando City Stadium in Florida.

Christian Pulisic put the Americans on his teenage shoulders with a goal and an assist inside the first 19 minutes to prevent tensions from mounting. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder now has eight goals in 19 international caps. Jozy Altidore also scored twice for the winning side.

The U.S. moves into third place in CONCACAF qualifying by earning all three points. A road victory over Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday would likely clinch a World Cup berth, barring a huge goal-differential turnaround by Honduras. A loss or draw would leave the team's fate dependent on other results.

The USMNT came into the match facing an unusually high amount of pressure for the penultimate match of the Hex. An extended stretch of lackluster form, including a loss to Costa Rica and a draw with Honduras during the September fixtures, created legitimate doubt about its World Cup prospects.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports commented on the situation before the game:

Pulisic got the Americans off to an electric start with a tremendous individual effort en route to the opening goal in the eighth minute. He corralled an off-target pass from Altidore, outran the Panamanian defense and slipped around goalkeeper Jaime Penedo to place the ball into an empty net.

U.S. Soccer highlighted the much-needed early tally:

The 19-year-old new face of the American national team had too many indifferent stretches during the qualifying games last month. It took him less than 20 minutes to ensure that wouldn't be the case Friday as he almost single-handedly took over the contest.

Just over 10 minutes after scoring the goal he found space behind the Panama back line again before delivering a picture-perfect cross to Altidore. The Toronto FC striker, who appeared a bit hobbled during warmups but still made the start, made no mistake with a simple finish for the 2-0 lead.

ESPN FC‏ provided a field-level view of the second U.S. goal:

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated commented on the Pulisic-Altidore connection:

The United States stretched the lead to three shortly before halftime from the penalty spot.

Bobby Wood created a scoring chance out of nowhere with a couple quick touches to dance around the Panama defense and got taken down in the box to earn the penalty. Altidore stepped up and calmly chipped the ball down the middle for his brace.

Univision Deportes spotlighted the third goal for the home squad:

Sam Borden of ESPN summed up the first half nicely:

The U.S. predictably slowed the pace of play after halftime in order to protect the lead. Panama responded by increasing their physical play, including a couple quick fouls on Pulisic, which led head coach Bruce Arena to wisely sub him out for precautionary reasons.

Wood capped a workmanlike effort alongside Altidore up front by scoring the fourth goal just after the hour mark. He made a nifty first touch just inside the top of the box after taking a pass from Paul Arriola and then buried his shot in the corner.

U.S. Soccer showcased the match's final goal:

ESPN Stats and Info passed along the updated outlook following the win:

Looking ahead, the United States' chances of ending up in Russia are far more promising than they were coming out of the September matches. Winning on the road in CONCACAF is always a challenge, however, so there's work to do Tuesday against Trinidad and Tobago.

While Pulisic is the engine behind the Americans' success, the side's all-around performance against Panama presented plenty of reason for optimism. A similar showing next week should be enough to punch their ticket to the World Cup after some uncertain moments during the qualifying run.

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