Yanks Step Up, Beat Panama 4-0 in World Cup Qualifier
October 06, 2017
ORLANDO, Fla.—The pressure was on and World Cup qualification hung in the balance, but you would have been hard-pressed to guess that by the way the U.S. national team played Friday night.
The U.S. got its World Cup Qualifying campaign back on track in emphatic fashion, routing Panama, 4-0, at Orlando City Stadium. Jozy Altidore and Christian Pulisic led the way in the romp, with Altidore bagging a brace and delivering an assist while Pulisic scored one goal and set up another.
Bobby Wood also contributed to the U.S. cause, scoring the game’s final tally in the second half and drawing a penalty kick late in the first.
“It was a good night,” said U.S. head coach Bruce Arena. “Our top three players early in the game were very active and dangerous, created a bunch of chances. Our back line had a little bit of a tough time in the first 15-20 minutes, and got a little bit better and played very well in the second half.”
It was a banner night for the Americans, who jumped out to an early lead in front of the sold-out crowd of 25,303. Altidore played a low pass to Pulisic in the eighth minute, and the talented teenager collected it with a smooth first touch before blazing past Panama goalkeeper Jamie Penedo and finishing well from a tight angle.
The two U.S. attackers reversed roles 11 minutes later, as Pulisic pulled off some individual brilliance to skin defender Michael Murillo and find Altidore for a strong tap-in finish from close range.
Pulisic "is a star,” said right back DeAndre Yedlin. “He’s 19, and we’re building our team around him. It shows a lot about his qualities as a player, and what he’s doing is fantastic. He’s a star player for us and he’s one of our most important players, so hopefully he can keep doing what he’s doing because it makes our jobs easier.”
The Panamanians responded with good spells of possession after going down 2-0, and forced U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard into action for the first time on the night at the half-hour mark. Panama worked the ball well from left to right before Gabriel Torres rifled a shot that the veteran netminder pushed away.
At its deadliest on the night when hitting on the counter, the U.S. made it 3-0 in 42nd minute via a penalty kick after early Panama substitute Armando Cooper clumsily brought down Wood in the box.
Altidore stepped up to take the ensuing kick from the spot, and converted coolly with a panenka that fooled Penedo.
“Clearly, the third goal was a tough one for them,” said Arena.
The Americans continued to push forward quickly on the break after halftime, even after U.S. head coach Bruce Arena removed Pulisic from the game in the 56th minute.
Wood got in on the fun in the 63rd minute, receiving a pass from about 13 yards out and turning nicely on it before tucking a shot to the bottom far corner.
Paul Arriola nearly added to the lopsided result in the 80th minute, but Penedo stopped him on a 1-on-1 look from the right side of the 18-yard box.
Panama had its only clear opportunity of the night early on but Gabriel Torres wasted a good counterattack by shooting high and wide of the frame from just outside the penalty area instead of playing Alberto Quintero in.
That opened the door for Pulisic’s winner a minute later, and the Americans just rolled from there.
“For our team, obviously it was very needed,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “Not just the three points, but the performance and the goal difference. Scoring goals, attacking, playing well, I thought we were never really troubled from the opening whistle to the last one.
“On a team note, it was great.”
With the win, the U.S. moved to third place in the standings for the final round of World Cup Qualifying in CONCACAF. The Americans close the campaign with a road game against Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday.