Barring an unimaginable, catastrophic loss on Wednesday, the United States men’s national team will be playing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The red, white and blue dominated Panama 5-1 on Sunday in their second-to-last World Cup qualifier as Christian Pulisic registered a hat trick. The result sets up a comfortable scenario for their final game at Costa Rica. The U.S. can suffer a lopsided loss and still punch their ticket as long as they hold a superior goal differential over Los Ticos following the match. The U.S. would have to lose 6-0 or worse to miss out on the World Cup, so unless the unthinkable happens, the Americans are set to mark their return after missing out in 2018.
Gregg Berhalter does know that there’s a little more to do saying, “We scored 5 goals in the game I think we could have had more. We were a little bit more clinical at times but we made a big step towards our goal of qualifying for the World Cup. We know we’re not there yet despite what that banner might have said, we know we still have a game to go, and it’s a difficult game in Costa Rica.”
Stopping the banner unveiling may have been one of Pulisc’s biggest saves of the match.
On Sunday, the U.S. led 3-0 by the half-hour mark with Pulisic (penalty), Paul Arriola, and Jesus Ferreira all scoring in a 10-minute span. It was an early foul on Walker Zimmerman in the box that resulted in a VAR-confirmed penalty kick, shifting all of the momentum to Gregg Berhalter’s team, and they didn’t look back from there. Panama had a couple of solid looks, but overall it was a comfortable night in Orlando for the reigning Gold Cup champs, who are in second place in the Concacaf table behind Canada, who qualified on Sunday. Another Pulisic penalty late in the first half slammed the door shut on any type of improbable comeback for the visitors.
In the second half, it was again all USA, with Pulisic rounding out his hat trick with an audacious goal, taking a stellar touch, nutmegging a defender and finishing with class.
Panama, who had their fair share of chances, scored a late consolation goal, but that was all they would get by a united USA defense led by Zimmerman and Miles Robinson.
While Pulisic will steal the show — for good reason as he scored his first hat trick for the side and tied Eddie Johnson for the fourth most USMNT goals in World Cup qualifying with 12 goals — Antonee Robinson showed out on the day. It seems like as long as Robinson is healthy that he’ll be the starting left back for the national team as his two assists on the night showed exactly what Berhalter wanted from his fullbacks.
Berhalter calls fullbacks the engines of his teams and it showed as Robinson and Shaq Moore had the most touches on the team. Robinson created two chances, had his assists while also winning two tackles and getting six recoveries. After a great defensive performance where he couldn’t get forward much due to the game plan against Mexico, Robinson showed his two way ability at home against Panama. You can see the growth in his play as he’s become an integral part of Fulham’s push for promotion to the Premier League while also leading the USMNT on the road to Qatar.
The Americans recorded 15 shots and an xG of 3.73, holding Panama to a 0.76 xG on 10 shots. Surprisingly, the U.S. had just 39.3 percent possession, their second-lowest amount in this qualifying cycle. Their two lowest possession matches have actually been their last two games — the draw at Mexico and this win over Panama. Less possession equaling four crucial points is something this team isn’t used to, but Berhalter and company will take it.
The performance is even more impressive taking into account that the stomach bug that hit the camp went through 20 people per Berhalter after the match. While it was a mixture of players and staff, it means that during such a short window, the team had fewer training minutes and available bodies than expected but everyone was ready.
With the win, the U.S. shifts focus to Wednesday against Costa Rica, which you can see live on Paramount+ at 9:05 p.m. ET.