US National Team cruises by Panama in World Cup qualifying

Arena at the 2006 World Cup

There are clichés written and uttered for the type of performance Christian Pulisic put on Friday night in Orlando, Fla.

Pulisic has scored or created nine of the 12 US goals during the final round of World Cup qualifying so clearly is the American player to watch against Panama, the nation lying directly ahead of the fourth-place Americans in the Hexagonal. "We have to put it right", Keller said of the thought process.

Entering the final game of the Hexagonal, the USA sits third on 12 points, while Panama is fourth with 10 points (pending results of tonight's ongoing matches). It wasn't a pretty game and the Yanks need a late rebound goal to get the point but generally a draw on the road is a good thing and in this case it was vital. The Americans are nearly into the 2018 World Cup, and they have Pulisic to thank. "We need a result and we know it's going to be a tough place to play". It doesn't happen that way. "I think we'll have a lot of support in the stadium, so it should be a good evening". Why are they fourth right now, with a worse goal differential than Panama? "Now we have to finish it off on Tuesday in Trinidad". The concept, from an elementary point of view is straightforward: play well and win regional matches.

"It was exactly what I expected", USA captain Michael Bradley said, "and now we've got to make sure that in a few days' time were ready to go to Trinidad and after 15 games of qualifying make sure that we finish things off in the right way". "I hate to kind of pour too much praise on him". Now it would have been nice to see Bill Hamid, Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath any of the young keepers who will likely replace Howard after 2018 on the 23, but you know. Escaping Mexico, Panama and Honduras with draws mean the US still have a chance.

Many of us in the press box talked ourselves into thinking that coach Bruce Arena would shuffle his tactical cards for this pressure-packed occasion.

After Wood added a fourth in the 63rd minute, the worries, the fears of the past few days, and the past few months, were gone. Panama's Gabriel Torres then had the ball at the top of the US box, but missed to the right of the USA goal by about 10 feet.

It took only eight minutes for Pulisic to make his mark on the game and finish a wonderful bit of long play started by Tim Howard in goal.

The Borussia Dortmund youngster's horizontal pass to Altidore for the second was inch flawless, and then Wood started to also make his mark.

Altidore gave the USA its third goal right before half-time from the penalty spot, chipping cheekily past Penedo from 12 yards away after Wood had been hauled down in the area. Wood is at his best when he's stretching defenses, as he did often on Friday, with Altidore more focused on holding up balls underneath and laying them off for Pulisic. Pulisic split two defenders and jumped in front of a slide tackle.

Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo: He also knows the US team well.

Pulisic acknowledged the beating, a fact of his life that has become common in games against Concacaf opposition, and shrugged it off. 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. Altidore went on to score twice, with one assisted by Pulisic. The move backfired and Cooper gave away a penalty after Bobby Wood dribbled past three defenders forcing Cooper to pull him down inside the area. Instead of blasting the attempt into a corner, Altidore used a cheeky chip down the middle for his 41st career goal.

Christian Pulisic, the 19-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, who is a rising star with Germany's Borussia Dortmund, helped energize the US when he was shifted to central midfield from the flanks. This year it's Australia against Syria, who played the first leg this morning, ending in a 1-1 draw.

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