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USMNT Knocking On The Door Of World Cup Bid After Win Over Panama

by Michael Lewis

Christian Pulisic reacts during the first half of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Panama on March 27, 2022 in Orlando, Fla.

 

The U.S. men’s soccer team moved oh-so-close to clinching a FIFA World Cup berth on Sunday night.

 

Sparked by Christian Pulisic’s first international hat trick, the Americans rolled to a 5-1 triumph over Panama in the penultimate game of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, assuring themselves of a top four finish in the region’s “Octagonal.”

 

The second-place U.S. (7-2-4, 25 points) can book a spot at November’s World Cup in Qatar as long as it doesn’t lose at fourth-place Costa Rica (6-3-4, 22) by more than six goals on Wednesday night, due to superior goal differential over the Ticos and third-place Mexico (7-2-4, 25), which won at Honduras later Sunday night.

 

At worst, the U.S. will meet the Oceania winner in an intercontinental playoff for a spot in Qatar on June 13-14.

 

The Americans hoped to clinch one of those three berths to Qatar on Sunday, which they would have done if Costa Rica tied or lost at El Salvador. However, the Ticos spoiled their plans with a 2-1 win.

 

Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira added goals as the U.S. eliminated fifth-place Panama (5-5-3, 18) from the competition with their largest goal explosion of this qualifying run before a sellout crowd of 25,022 at Exploria Stadium.

 

Buoyed by three goals within a 10-minute period, the Americans rolled to a 4-0 halftime lead.

 

In a penalty kick sequence that took four minutes to complete, Pulisic converted from the spot to start the rout.

 

It began when Abibal Godoy elbowed U.S. center back and Nashville SC teammate Walker Zimmerman in the face in the box in the 13th minute. Although the referee initially did not call anything, the video assistant referee officials notified him of a possible infraction a minute later. After watching a replay of the action, Barton awarded the U.S. a penalty kick.

 

Ferreira walked the ball to the spot, but eventually Pulisic took the kick and converted to the left side past goalkeeper Luis Mejia in the 17th minute.

 

The U.S. was far from finished.

 

Arriola headed home a left-wing cross from defender Antonee Robinson in the 23rd minute, and Ferreira tapped in an Arriola feed from close range four minutes later for a 3-0 advantage.

 

After Godoy slammed Miles Robinson in the throat in the box during stoppage time, the midfielder was whistled for his second penalty of the half. Pulisic connected on his second goal, drilling a shot to the right side that Meija could not stop.

 

Meija also could not stop Pulisic from the run of play in the 65th minute as the Chelsea forward deposited the ball into the back of the net after making some nice moves to maneuver around the Panamanian backline to score from seven yards.

 

Godoy spoiled goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s shutout bid with a header goal in the 86th minute.

Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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