US Men's Soccer Smacks Panama, Looks Primed for World Cup Berth

2:25 | Soccer         A World Cup Without Messi

After a week in which many wondered what would happen if the USA failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the discussion changed on Friday.

It was Pulisic who set the tone early, going right at Panama's normally stingy defense from the start, with his speed and confident dribbling tearing through opposing defenders easily. Arena started Pulisic high and central instead of on the midfield periphery, making it easier for him to combine with Wood and Altidore. "He's a complete package, so when it comes to the biggest games, he's the first guy that you want there with you and he came through in a big way tonight". Jozy Altidore had two goals and an assist while Bobby Wood also got his name on the score sheet in a ideal result for the USMNT, which earned just its third win in its last nine qualifiers.

That contest drew extra attention for being the first national team game after the September 11, 200,1 terrorist attacks.

Should the USA snatch third place in their group, the Socceroos will face either Panama or Honduras.

The United States should have scored more but profligate finishing and a fine performance from Penedo kept the score down. This time we gave them space and that was the error.

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Sure the U.S. finished first in the hex for the last three World Cups, but for the 2002 World Cup, where they nearly made the Final Four, they finished third in the hex. So I think we're moving along well.

Friday night was always going to end up with one or the other for the United States men's national team, wasn't it?

"Jozy laid it off for me, and I was just gone, I guess", Pulisic said. American soccer fans are now accustomed to seeing the US dominate CONCACAF competition, but this cycle has been hard for the Americans. However, given the fact that they are only one point above both US and Honduras, losing or drawing both matches could make things look gloomy for Panama, with the former scenario eliminating them.

Christian Pulisic took precisely two minutes and five seconds to show everyone that he was not screwing around on Friday night.

"I got kicked a few times tonight, but I'll be fine", Pulisic said. "He did what he wanted".

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Gulati, who teaches economics at Columbia University, has held the unpaid presidency of the U.S. Soccer Federation since 2006. 'He plays in Champions League against the biggest players, biggest teams in the world.

And even US coach Bruce Arena - who customarily cautions against hyping youngsters too much - has heaped praise upon him.

Jozy Altidore scored and assisted for the a 4-0 rout of Panama in Friday's World Cup Qualifier at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Fla. He's the best player on the team not only because of what he does as an individual, but because he makes his teammates better. After being played in behind the defense, Pulisic has the option to sprint to the endline and whip in a cross, but he knows better. It wasn't televised live because ABC preempted it to report on USA military attacks in Afghanistan. He had a goal and an assist playing through the middle of the pitch, dictating play all night in Orlando.

And if they have learned anything on their long qualifying road - one that began with two humbling losses and the firing of their last coach, Jurgen Klinsmann - it is that nothing is certain, and that even a country accustomed to a quadrennial World Cup trip has to earn its place on the field before it can pack its bags.

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