Saturday, 16 December, 2017

United States of America revive to deflate Panama hopes, El Tri win again

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Spencer Simpson | 08 October, 2017, 00:28

After an 0-2 start in qualifying, the USA climbed back into contention before last month's 2-0 home loss to Costa Rica in Harrison, New Jersey. Instead of running full speed, all of Panama's defenders have gone flat-footed. Pulisic's smart early goal set the tone for the Stars and Stripes, and was soon followed by a ideal assist for Altidore to double the advantage. Playing in the biggest game of his young global career, Pulisic chewed up the pressure like a chocolate bar from his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and did it with the swagger of a player who absolutely expects to do the magical things he can do at such a young age.

Altidore's Panenka penalty in the 43rd minute ended the match as a contest after Bobby Wood was fouled inside the area before the latter completed the scoring past the hour-mark. A squad that included Union sporting director Earnie Stewart and a 19-year-old Landon Donovan edged Jamaica, 2-1, in Foxborough, Mass. "He's 19, and we're building our team around him. Our top three attackers all had a good night".

You could feel the USA attack feeding off of Pulisic's confidence, as every member of the group contributed, making Panama pay for giving the US attack too much room to operate.

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

"Oh, boy. We don't have any time. 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".

Pulisic, who was the target of some hard fouls by the Panamanian team, was substituted early in the second half for Dax McCarty with the US chasing a fourth. "So for us it would be good to get control and try and win the game from minute one".

Let's go back to October of 2013 when Panama was in a similar situation as the U.S.is in now.

"I got kicked a few times tonight, but I'll be fine", Pulisic said.

"People can come in and say it's just another game, but the reality is it's not just another game", winger Paul Arriola said. It was Altidore's early lay-off passes that created chances for Pulisic, including his expertly taken eighth-minute goal. "He did what he wanted".

But minutes before the end of the first half, the US put the game on ice thanks to a powerful, clinical move from Wood. If the U.S.is as aggressive as it was on Friday, the objective will be achieved.

Midfielder Gabriel Gómez: Still going strong at age 33, the former Union player could make his 135th appearance for the national team in this game. 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.

It's bonkers that the USA have fumbled their way through qualifying to the point that they need to take points from Panama at home in October to keep their chances above 50 percent, but here we are, facing a legitimate must-win game.

"This is what high-level athletes and coaches are supposed to be about", US coach Bruce Arena said. "The better collection of players we have around Christian he's just going to be a better player".

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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