With Christian Pulisic Driving, United States Steers Closer to World Cup

With two matches left in the Hexagonal to determine the three World Cup spots for CONCACAF, the USA men’s national team has its destiny in its hands heading into a crucial match against Panama on Friday night in Orlando, Fla.

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U.S. MNT Starting XI World Cup Qualifying Cap Numbers (including this match): Jozy Altidore (40), Michael Bradley (39), Tim Howard (38), Omar Gonzalez (17), Matt Besler (13), Bobby Wood (13), Christian Pulisic (12), Darlington Nagbe (10), DeAndre Yedlin (9), Paul Arriola (6), Jorge Villafaña (5).

CONCACAF’s fourth-place nation goes to a play-off next month against Australia or Syria, tied 1-1 in their two-leg matchup heading into Tuesday’s game at Sydney.

“I think the United States of America will be returning to Orlando”, veteran soccer broadcaster Ian Darke said while describing the rowdy crowd during the broadcast Friday night on ESPN2. If the US were to only get one or two points from those games, pending other results, it could still very well end up in fourth place.

The U.S. are still not guaranteed a spot at next year’s World Cup, as results from Saturday’s Costa Rica-Hondura match and Tuesday’s final round will affect the outcome in the standings.

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

“We want to come out flying at the beginning”, said Pulisic on Thursday. “We could have scored a lot more goals”.

The four-goal margin of victory was also helpful for the USA -it left the Americans with a plus-5 goal difference and Panama at minus-two. 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.

The brilliant 19-year-old scored one and made another to cap a sensational 19-minute burst at the start of this crucial World Cup qualifier to see off a shellshocked Panama team and help the USA take a firm step towards next year’s finals.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. “They’ve had a good qualifying campaign to date.They’re a team in third place – so they’re ahead of us”.

Heading into the final matches, the US sits in fourth with nine points, one behind Panama and tied with Honduras, but ahead of the latter on goal differential.

Asked if expectations on Pulisic are fair – he is already the team’s most popular player and was featured on “60 Minutes” on Sunday – Arena said: “It’s fair”.

In the last three editions of the World Cup, the U.S. has sailed through the qualifying round easily.

Bobby Wood created a scoring chance out of nowhere with a couple quick touches to dance around the Panama defense and got taken down in the box to earn the penalty. Mexico (5-0-3) has clinched. This time, the complete exact is happening as Mexico have already qualified and U.S. are in an extremely delicate position where even one loss out of their final two games will mean elimination. “I suspect they are going to be a handful”, said Arena.

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As of right now, Panama has one more point than the U.S. “This why we play for these type of games”, Arena added.

The USMNT Can't Afford To Lose