My 4 Thoughts on USMNT-Panama
Only a Loss By Six Goals or More at Costa Rica on Wednesday Would Prevent the U.S. From Qualifying for World Cup 2022
ORLANDO, Fla. — The USMNT beat Panama 5-1 in the 13th game of the 14-match World Cup qualifying Octagonal on Sunday, leaving the U.S. with 25 points and Panama with 18 points. Here are my four thoughts on the game:
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• This was the blowout the U.S. needed. The U.S. absolutely needed to get a win at home in the penultimate game of World Cup qualifying, and any possibilities of repeating the failure in Trinidad and Tobago five years ago melted in a four-goal first-half outburst that turned the game into a full-throated celebration. Christian Pulisic scored the first two of his three goals on penalties—the first two penalties the U.S. had earned in 13 World Cup qualifiers—and two MLS front-line players (Paul Arriola and Jesús Ferreira) scored good goals as well. Ferreira’s was the first goal scored by a USMNT centerforward since Ricardo Pepi had two all the way back in October against Jamaica. The U.S. wasn’t able to clinch a World Cup berth due to Costa Rica’s 2-1 victory in El Salvador, but only a disaster of epic proportions—losing at Costa Rica by six or more goals on Wednesday—would prevent the U.S. from qualifying for the World Cup.
• Pulisic’s first U.S. hat trick couldn’t have come at a better time. The USMNT’s biggest star has had an up-and-down performance in World Cup qualifying, but you couldn’t have been much more “up” than Pulisic was on Sunday. Wearing the captain’s armband, he stepped up to take and convert his two first-half penalties, and then his filthy first touch before his third goal brought back memories of Dennis Bergkamp. By the time Pulisic came off in the 70th minute, he got a deserved standing ovation from the home crowd. One thing that stood out about Pulisic’s performance: He didn’t try to do too much. He didn’t over-dribble into traffic like he sometimes did earlier in the qualifying cycle. He trusts his teammates a bit more now, but he still knew on Sunday when to pick his spots and show off the exquisite skill that he has.
• Luca De La Torre can play. For the second straight window, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter put his trust in the 23-year-old De La Torre to start in the central midfield in a big World Cup qualifier. And for the second straight window, De La Torre delivered. Once again, he showed really good feet and had several beneficial passing exchanges. He was confident on the ball and read the game well. And he never looked overmatched by the occasion. These are the types of performances that will keep getting De La Torre called into the squad and will help him make a case to Berhalter that needs to be on the plane to Qatar.
• Panama has absolutely collapsed down the stretch in World Cup qualifying. The Canaleros looked like a team that could return to the World Cup when they beat the U.S. 1-0 in Panama City last October. But they have been absolutely miserable in the games that have mattered most and now find themselves eliminated from World Cup qualifying. Sunday’s loss was Panama’s third in its last five qualifiers, and they certainly didn’t help matters by tying at home against Honduras on Thursday. Going down by four goals in the first half to the U.S. revealed a team that is reeling, and the two penalties showed a lack of discipline. Panama has been a fun success story as it has risen over the last three World Cup qualifying cycles, but it has some serious questions to answer about what went wrong this time around.
What were your thoughts on the game? You can share them in the comments below.
Leaving game now. Can’t believe Grant’s substack beat me to parking lot
Shaq Moore flies in and has a performance!