What USMNT needs to do to directly qualify for the World Cup

Oct 08, 2017, 00:49

Arena needed his side to heap early pressure onto a Panama side who have been notoriously hard to break down, conceding just five goals in their prior matches of the six-nation final round of qualifying.

The USMNT takes on Panama tonight on ESPN 2 in a pivotal World Cup qualifying match. He then dribbled to his right, juking Panama keeper Jaime Penedo.

Just 11 minutes after that he switched roles with Jozy Altidore, turning into the provider.

Cristian Pulisic continues to exceed the lofty expectations already placed on him. I think the spacing was pretty good for most of the night.

Bobby Wood also scored in the 63rd minute.

This matters, because going forward the U.S.is unlikely to get away with throwing caution so wantonly to the wind.

"Those guys are great players so it's not hard to play with great players", Pulisic said.

"I was very confident in this group".

Looking ahead, the United States' chances of ending up in Russian Federation are far more promising than they were coming out of the September matches. This time we gave them space and that was the error. "They came out and really made it an advantage".

However, a win by Panama and a Honduras loss to Costa Rica would ensure a place for Los Canaleros in Russian Federation.

Needing to take initiative, Arena started three attacking midfielders: Portland's Darlington Nagbe and D.C. United's Paul Arriola flanked Pulisic, a rising star with Borussia Dortmund. The issue is whether we get the results we need, and I think we're positioned to do that.

The four goals marked the most Panama has given up in a World Cup qualifier since a 6-0 loss to the U.S.in October 2004 - and was one short of the five goals it had allowed in its eight previous games in this cycle combined. The three points earned allowed the U.S.to leapfrog Panama in the CONCACAF standings and leave Bruce Arena's side in prime position to punch its ticket to Russian Federation with Tuesday's match at Trinidad & Tobago. But based on Friday's performance, it appears the US has regained its form just in time. The goal saved the US team and its fans a lot of nerves, as Panama's intentions to resort to bus-parking tactics were clear from the kick-off.

Pulisic fed an open Altidore for a good opportunity in the third minute, Arriola shot wide in the fourth and Wood in the fifth.

Pulisic has been hailed as the next leading figure for the country's national team, despite being just 19-years-old. Its results from the first two matchdays in November left the US in last place and with little margin for error. Playing in the biggest game of his young global career, Pulisic chewed up the pressure like a chocolate bar from his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and did it with the swagger of a player who absolutely expects to do the magical things he can do at such a young age.

"I thought we were smart in how we went about it", Bradley said on Friday night. "He did what he wanted".

The U.S. has lost just once in 17 games under Arena in 2017. "He's 19, and we're building our team around him".

"It was a good night", said USA head coach Bruce Arena. "He's a good player, but for Christian to be more effective he needs to have good players around him".

"We still knew that everything was in our hands".

Messi might want to borrow a copy of the USA win to show to his teammates as evidence of what can be done when you attack as a group, and support your star. He had a goal and an assist playing through the middle of the pitch, dictating play all night in Orlando. But this was precisely the kind of performance the USA needed, enabling the side to exhale a bit after enduring a month of doubt and anxiety about its World Cup qualification bid.

OK, we knew that already, but the USA men's national team's 4-0 victory over Panama on Friday night in a must-win World Cup qualifier showed just how special the American wonder teen is.

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