Going into this qualifier against Panama, the US was aware (or at least the manager and bench players were aware), that due to Costa Rica’s win just before kickoff, they could not clinch their spot in the 2022 world cup. They did know that a win would set them up in the right direction for the final game in San Jose. The USMNT is one step closer to Qatar after pummeling Panama 5-1!
USMNT One Step Closer
Berhalter decided to roll out with the usual 4-3-3 formation with Steffen between the sticks. With DeAndre Yedlin out with yellow card suspension, the only change to the backline from the game in Mexico was Shaq Moore in at right-back. The midfield trio saw Yunas Musah, and Tyler Adams keep their spots, but Luca De La Torre came in for Kellyn Acosta.
The front three saw only Christian Pulisic keep his spot with Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola completing that front three. After a game in Mexico that saw him miss a glorious chance, Christian Pulisic took complete control of this qualifier and with the captain’s armband, lead the USMNT to a resounding 5-1 win against Panama. Let us take a look at how this tremendous smackdown occurred in the Sunshine State to help the USMNT be one step closer to Qatar!
The US came out firing on all cylinders to start this game. Christian Pulisic was determined to help show why he is still arguably one of the team’s most important attacking players and to shake off the ghosts/specters of 2017. His first chance at battling those demons came around the 13th minute on a corner kick which initially saw Panama clear their lines and control the rush up the field. What was not noticed at that initial glance was Walker Zimmerman being hauled down by his Nashville teammate Anibal Godoy. But the good news for the US was that there was VAR for this game and the head official for this match was instructed to look at the monitor. Upon further review, it was determined that Godoy fouled Zimmerman in the box and a penalty kick was awarded.
Christian Pulisic lined up for this early PK and thoroughly thumped the ball into the upper part of the net in the 17th minute to take an early 1-0 lead. Panama came back quickly with a frenetic pace and nearly had an equalizer after a mad scramble in the box, but it was quickly cleared out. Right after that close Panamanian chance, the US hit paydirt. Christian Pulisic chased the ball down near the end line and got fouled. The ref played advantage with Jedi Robinson quickly getting on the ball and firing in a beautifully weighted cross, finding Paul Arriola who got a solid header in away from the goalie and into the back of the net, putting the US up 2-0 within the first 25 minutes.
It was starting to look like a rout and boy did the US jump on the chance to put more on the scoreboard. Not even five minutes later, the US had another amazing chance. Luca De La Torre had the ball near the top of the box and played a nice through ball to Shaq Moore on the overlap. Moore quickly low crossed the ball into the feet of Paul Arriola, who tried to quickly turn and fire the ball on net. It took a slight deflection and fell to the feet of Jesus Ferreira, who had no issues slotting that ball home to put the US up 3-0 and continue his hot run of form that saw his inclusion into this camp.
Just when everyone thought the US was only going to go into the half up 3-0, the soccer gods gifted the Americans another glorious chance. On a set piece scramble, Anibal Godoy once again seemed unable to control his arms and put a forearm shiver right into the neck/face area of Miles Robinson who went down. This time, the ref did not need VAR to make this call and whistled instantly for another US penalty kick. Christian Pulisic once again stepped up to the spot and although the Panamanian goalkeeper guessed right, Pulisic had too much pace on the ball and hit the back of the net, putting the US up 4-0 right before the end of the half, and they knew they were one step closer to their goal!
The second half didn’t have nearly as many fireworks as the first half did, but it did have its standout moments. One of the earliest chances that nearly led to a Panamanian goal was around the 53rd minute. Panama fed a nice ball down the channel into the box, where Steffen attempted to cut the pass off. The striker got their first and tried to square the ball over to his teammate for an open shot if not for the timely sliding block of Tyler Adams to thwart the chance and keep the game at the 4-0 mark.
About 10 minutes after that near Panama goal, the US struck once again. Luce De La Torre weaved his way through the midfield and laid the ball off for Jedi Robinson. After a brief give and go, Robinson crossed the ball into the box. Christian Pulisic took two phenomenal touches, one to spin himself around and another to go past the defender. In the same quick motion, Pulisic fired the ball calmly into the back of the net and put the US up a resounding 5-0 at that point. One step closer!
Panama wouldn’t leave the game without putting in a consolation goal of their own in the 85th minute off a set-piece header from Anibal Godoy. With that lone goal coming late in the game, there was not much else to it and the final whistle blew, cementing the USA’s dominant 5-1 win over Panama.
What a resounding result for the Americans in Orlando. After questions about whether they left two points on the table in Mexico, they showed that this group is not the same as the group in 2017 and put on a tremendous show for the Orlando faithful they are all but in Qatar. This result proved the USMNT is one step closer to the World Cup; it also did two things for certain, which were:
- Eliminate Panama from World Cup qualifying, as with Costa Rica’s win earlier, there was no possibility for Panama of getting the fourth spot
- Solidifying the USA’s chances of qualifying with assurances that they cannot fall farther than fourth after Wednesday’s results
The USMNT is in a comfortable position to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. They’re one step closet; the team only needs a win/draw to secure one of the three automatic spots with the only way they fall to the playoff spot in fourth is if Costa Rica wins by six goals or more. With those thoughts in mind, it seems like the US might be able to shake off the concerns of 2017. We will see if they can secure their place in Qatar on Wednesday.
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Mandatory Credit: Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire