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

2:10 | Soccer         Why Soccer in America Would Take Big Blow if USMNT Can't Qualify for 2018 World Cup

2:10 | Soccer Why Soccer in America Would Take Big Blow if USMNT Can't Qualify for 2018 World Cup

Concerned over depth with nine of the 26 players carrying yellow cards, Arena is bringing in nine defenders and 10 midfielders.

For the Americans, a victory Friday was essential.

The U.S. moves into third place in CONCACAF qualifying by earning all three points. A draw would change nothing between the two.

However, a win by Panama and a Honduras loss to Costa Rica would ensure a place for Los Canaleros in Russian Federation. The match eventually ended at 4-0, leaving the United States in third place in the region, behind Mexico and Costa Rica, with a final crucial qualifying match on Tuesday against Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. Men's National Team has become a perennial participant in the competition, having qualified for each of the last seven World Cups dating back to 1990. The U.S. team stumbled at the start of the 2018 qualifying matches, and Klinsmann was sacked. The top three nations at the end of the Hex round automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-place team must win an intercontinental playoff with the fifth-place finisher from the Asian Football Confederation to qualify. A loss meant Panama was out completely. A similar showing next week should be enough to punch their ticket to the World Cup after some uncertain moments during the qualifying run.

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Friday night's contest against Panama is absolutely huge regarding whether or not the team gets in. The last time these two teams played it was a 1-1 game, the Americans can not afford to repeat that result and should go in hungry for the three points from the game. This was Panama, after all, in Florida on a hot night in October. It will be physical, and it'll step on the gas for the entire 90 minutes. However, this time, they have a pretty fair chance of qualifying as now, they are in the tournament on paper but it may not turn out that way eventually if they mess up in their final two matches against the U.S. and Costa Rica, both of which are pretty tough ones. That helps Panama not see this match as a daunting task.

Pulisic got the Americans off to an electric start with a tremendous individual effort en route to the opening goal in the eighth minute. Trinidad has three points and is all-but-eliminated.

Whatever the US opts to do, players know they will be in for some kind of fight on the road. Asked about that second game, the USA coach said he had not devised an overarching plan for both matches.

That can be an attractive bit of motivation for small Concacaf teams, however, especially when there is a chance to ding the mighty United States.

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Pulisic was walking with a noticeable limp after the game, the result of the disgraceful repeated physical targeting by the Panamanians (who did the same thing in the teams' 1-1 tie in Panama back in March). And of course, the last qualifier between the two saw them play to a 1-1 stalemate in Panama City. It had been 12 years since the Americans faced such stress in the final round and, regardless of Friday's outcome, their fate would be decided in the 10th and final match.

Bobby Wood also contributed to the US cause, scoring the game's final tally in the second half and drawing a penalty kick late in the first. Los Canaleros desperately want to make the World Cup for the first time ever.

It's getting harder and harder to deny the hype of Christian Pulisic; it's getting harder and harder to find new superlatives for the teenager.

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