U.S. 4-0 Panama

Posted October 08, 2017

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points moved two ahead of Panama into third place - the last automatic berth - in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Altidore then added another on a penalty kick, while Bobby Wood topped things off with a stop-and-shoot chip in the second half.

There was tension in the US camp heading into this match. But tension isn't always a bad thing. They did just that in an emphatic 4-0 win that has the Americans on the verge of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

The US were utterly dominant and on 43 minutes the game was put to bed. Panama was expected to do much the same, but the USA was determined not to fall into the trap of constantly having to break down a set defense.

Some of the names may change between now and Russian Federation, especially in the center back pairing, as having Geoff Cameron on the bench is not a luxury the United States can afford, but the existing formation appears to make the most out of the existing skillset of this group.

Panama had no answer for this approach, as the Americans connected twice in the first 20 minutes.

The two USA attackers reversed roles 11 minutes later, as Pulisic pulled off some individual brilliance to skin defender Michael Murillo and find Altidore for a strong tap-in finish from close range.

Pulisic went on to set up the second goal, placing a ball through the Panamanian box past the keeper and on a silver platter for Jozy Altidore to tap into the net.

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Serbia and Spain can each top their respective groups if results go in each team's favor, while Croatia and Iceland would set up an intriguing final matchday in Group I if both teams win on Friday. Which of Paul Arriola and Darlington Nagbe is more essential to the USA gameplan?

The U.S. predictably slowed the pace of play after halftime in order to protect the lead. But the US capped its dominant half when Panama substitute Armando Cooper hauled down Wood in the box, and Altidore converted the ensuing penalty kick with a "Panenka" that sailed just under the bar as Penedo dove hard to his left.

The U.S. didn't get out of the game unscathed, however, with Pulisic limping off the field briefly early in the second half after a strong tackle by Anibal Godoy.

And with that, the exact type of win the US needed, one that results in three points and a massive amount of momentum.

Pulisic, the 19-year-old wonder from Hershey, Pennsylvania, made sure his team didn't fall into deeper peril. On this night, Pulisic certainly drove home his point in terms of how effective he can be in the middle.

Wood and Altidore manned the front line.

The U.S. has lost just once in 17 games under Arena in 2017. Paul Arriola was constantly providing an outlet in transition moments, giving the Panama defense no easy answers as to who to defend. For Christian to be more effective, he needs to have good players around him.

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This matters, because going forward the U.S.is unlikely to get away with throwing caution so wantonly to the wind. He's been getting beat up in these games in CONCACAF.

Arena added that the formation was a "gamble" in that it left Michael Bradley to do the bulk of defensive work in midfield, but " we wanted to push five players forward in the attack as aggressively as we could. On this night, Arriola and Nagbe did their bit to tuck and provide some help. After two genuine US threats - as well as one good look by Panama - Pulisic shattered the deadlock. Centrally, defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler were stretched and allowed a few chances. The return - and speed - of Yedlin also put the U.S.in a better position to recover. With the game well in hand, Arena wanted to protect his precocious star.

Arena can look to hone those issues in the coming days. So far, Mexico have qualified for the World Cup from the fifth round which leaves Costa Rica, Panama, United States, and Honduras fight it out for the remaining two direct qualification spots.

It's worth noting that the Americans' prospects will change again before Tuesday, with Tropical Storm Nate forcing Honduras' penultimate qualifier at Costa Rica to be delayed until Saturday night.

The U.S. job is only half-done, however. "I think we're moving along well, we've advanced from sixth to third, we're positioned well with goal differential, and now we have to finish it off on Tuesday in Trinidad". Unlike the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago will have nothing to lose and no pressure Tuesday.

A defeat would have meant the US could finish no better than fourth.

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