Christian Pulisic bagged his first international hat-trick as the United States men’s national scored four first-half goals to come away with a big win over Panama on Sunday to put them one step away from returning to the World Cup.
USA 5-1 Panama
The United States came out firing on all cylinders and did not look back as they gave Panama a thrashing at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida, to dash their World Cup chances and put themselves within reach of booking their ticket to Qatar.
Following last Thursday’s scoreless draw with Mexico at the Azteca Stadium, in which their finishing denied them what would have been a historic win, the U.S. needed a big response. With Canada already booking their spot for the World Cup earlier in the day, a win would only suffice to keep them in contention for the final two automatic spots.
Gregg Berhalter’s trusted 4-3-3 formation saw some personnel changes as Shaq Moore got the nod at right-back in the place of DeAndre Yedlin. Up top, Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola would replace Ricardo Pepi and Tim Weah.
The hosts got their first chance to open the scoring after more than 10 minutes of play when Walker Zimmerman was brought down in the area during a corner kick. A review from the video assistant referee showed that Panama’s Anibal Godoy manhandled his Nashville FC teammate, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot for a penalty.
Christian Pulisic then stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to score his first of the night.
The U.S. couldn’t celebrate long as they had a near scare after the restart as Panama tested their backline with a chance of their own. Antonee Robinson’s attempt to clear the ball was blocked, leading to a cross into the area. Zack Steffen did enough to get his fingertips on the ball to clear the danger, but it wasn’t enough as there was a mad scramble in the 12-yard box before the ball was eventually cleared away.
That episode then led to the Americans doubling their lead in the 23rd minute. Pulisic chased down a ball that was sent over the top before passing it to Antonee Robinson whose pinpoint cross found all 5’6″ of Paul Arriola to head home.
The goal glut continued three minutes later when Jesus Ferreira added another following some passing between Luca de la Torre, Moore, and Arriola as the FC Dallas man finished off the play.
The Panamanians were frustrated and showed some saltiness later on in the first half, but that didn’t stop the U.S. from bagging an incredible fourth before the break. Godoy was once again the guilty party as the referee believed he was too rough in knocking down Miles Robinson in the area.
Pulisic stepped up again to take the penalty and put away to give them more enough breathing space for the second half.
Although up by a huge margin, the hosts did not let up and Pulisic ended the night with a deserved hat-trick in the 65th minute. Collecting a pass from Antonee Robinson, the Chelsea man spun around one defender and tapped the ball between the legs of another before slotting it past the goalkeeper.
The U.S. took their chances well in this game, but they certainly had to not be happy to not come away with the shutout as Godoy was able to get his head on the ball and score a mere consolation goal for the Panamanians in the 86th minute.
All in all, it was a satisfactory performance for the Americans, but autmatic qualification has not been guaranteed yet. They now head to Costa Rica, where a catastrophe will not happen.