USA rout of Panama brings new beginning, reignites World Cup hopes

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But the last time Panama and the United States met on the pitch, Panama was able to eek out a 1-1 draw, frustrating the US and their attack.

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.

Pulisic - one of the most highly-rated youngsters in world football now plying his trade with Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund - was at the peak of his powers against Panama, ghosting past the keeper before tapping in on the stretch for the USA opener.

The 19-year-old new face of the American national team had too many indifferent stretches during the qualifying games last month.

Bobby Wood also scored in the 63rd minute. If the Americans perform well enough to win their final two fixtures of the Hex, we'll see the Red, White and Blue next summer in Russian Federation. I think the spacing was pretty good for most of the night.

Panama will likely try to make Friday's game a mud fight in an effort to hold on to third place.

"In the other games we played against the United States we never gave them so much space in the back".

For the U.S. not to participate at the World Cup for the first time since 1986 would be a hammer-blow for North America and its soccer infrastructure which has grown immeasurably over the past decade.

Asked early in the week about the goalie situation, Arena said: "We will make a decision on our goalkeeper on Thursday". Considering the weakness this defense has shown in qualifying and the penchant the US has shown to seize up in front of goal, this team would be lost without his occasional but increasingly frequent spurts of creative genius and attacking verve.

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Pulisic acknowledged the beating, a fact of his life that has become common in games against Concacaf opposition, and shrugged it off. "He did great to take his man on and I just tried to get into the box to get into a good spot". In the matches since, the US attack had grown a bit predictable and overly reliant on Pulisic, which made it easy for opposing defenses to neutralize the Americans.

The Americans' slow start to the final stage of qualification has come back to haunt them.

No one benefited more from having Pulisic in the thick of things than Altidore, he of the two goals and one assist on the night. "He did what he wanted".

Bobby Wood also contributed to the USA cause, scoring the game's final tally in the second half and drawing a penalty kick late in the first. If Pulisic is world-class, why do the U.S.

"I was very confident in this group", US coach Bruce Arena said, before adding a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor.

He's already scored the equalizing goal against Real Madrid in a UEFA Champions League game and passing more milestones already seems inevitable. 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.

American players are hoping for a better atmosphere in Orlando.

But with so much at stake, a strong performance Friday by Howard - or Guzan, if he is the choice - perhaps would earn that individual a second call Tuesday when the Americans visit Trinidad and Tobago.

After getting just one point in two September qualifiers, a loss to Panama on Friday night would have left the US with one more chance to reach next year's World Cup: by winning a playoff against the fifth-place nation in Asia.

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