2018 World Cup Qualifying - CONCACAF, CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying - Hexagonal
  • Christian Pulisic (8')
  • Jozy Altidore (19', 43' PEN)
  • Bobby Wood (63')

U.S. takes big step toward Russia by thrashing Panama

Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring the opener for the U.S. against Panama. AP Photo/John Raoux

The United States earned a crucial 4-0 win against Panama in its penultimate CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in Orlando on Friday night.

The win puts Bruce Arena's team ahead of Panama in third place -- which would guarantee a spot in the 2018 World Cup -- in the standings with one match to play against Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

With Clint Dempsey on the bench and Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood up top, the Americans started brightly. Altidore set Wood up with a pinpoint cross just past the five-minute mark, but the Hamburg striker's shot from six yards away trickled wide of the goal.

Three minutes later, Christian Pulisic had the U.S. in front, picking up a nice touch pass from Altidore, beating his defender and rounding Jaime Penedo to score from a tight angle and put his team up 1-0.

Pulisic nearly doubled the lead soon after, breaking on his own from the middle of the field and getting free before running out of options in the Panama penalty area.

And the second came before the 20-minute mark, when Pulisic beat his defender on the left flank and curled a perfect pass across the Panama goalmouth for Altidore to tuck away for the 2-0 advantage.

Howard was rarely tested at the other end, but did well to deny Gabriel Torres, who stung the U.S. keeper's hands with a well-hit shot from 18 yards away in the 28th minute.

Altidore gave the U.S. its third goal right before half-time from the penalty spot, chipping cheekily past Penedo from 12 yards away after Wood had been hauled down in the area.

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 U.S. chasing a fourth.

And the fourth came after 60 minutes, when Paul Arriola cut in from the right flank and dinked a neat pass to Wood, who turned with his first touch and fired in with his right foot to effectively end the match.

Arriola nearly scored himself as the game approached full-time, but his shot from close range after a great ball through from McCarty was well-saved by Penedo.

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.