McCarty makes qualifying debut as USMNT inches closer to Russian Federation

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

US men's national team manager Bruce Arena was full of praise for his side after it thrashed Panama 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier, in particular his attacking trio of Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Bobby Wood. He had a goal and an assist playing through the middle of the pitch, dictating play all night in Orlando. Of course, Pulisic was dynamic too, darting into spaces to spark the US attack.

Jozy Altidore trapped a header and slid it over to the young star.

A typically dramatic matchday in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying in the CONCACAF region has finally seen just a little bit of daylight appear in hitherto congested standings.

"On a night where so much was on line, maybe everything, we played in a way from the get-go that gave no doubt as to who was going to win the game", Bradley said.

Panama enjoyed some more time on the ball but it left them exposed at the back as the Americans were presented with plenty of space, and Altidore wasted the chance to net his second after shooting straight at Penedo. A burst of pace put him past the Panama defense and one-on-one with the keeper.

Pulisic got the opener after eight minutes when he sprinted free of the defence and slotted the ball home from a tight angle after rounding the goalkeeper. By the looks of his celebration, it's clear Pulisic was dying to get this goal.

Pulisic, 19, pulled off the maneuver in the seventh minute at Orlando City Stadium.

Such was USA's dominance, Panama made a substitution in the 26th minute. A bit of cheeky footwork played him around the defender and put him in great position for a cross. Panama looked risky on the left. On Sunday, Pulisic was the subject of a "60 Minutes" special, in which Arena said that Pulisic had the potential to become "the first American superstar in the sport". Captain Michael Bradley served in defensive midfield in front of center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Panama could easily have ended the first half with a goal or two.

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Christian Pulisic put on another masterpiece Friday, reminding us all why he has begun to draw comparisons to Argentine superstar Lionel Messi. By half-time it was three thanks to Altidore's cheeky Panenka conversion from the penalty spot.

Wood had problems on the night, but he was undoubtedly a positive force. "He scores goals, but he's a great passer". However, given the fact that they are only one point above both U.S. and Honduras, losing or drawing both matches could make things look gloomy for Panama, with the former scenario eliminating them.

For the Americans, however, a win against bottom of the hexagonal table Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday will seal their ticket for an eighth consecutive finals - and even a point should do it.

Pressure was on United States of America to claim all three points in Friday's crucial qualifier, with the Americans occupying fourth position before kick-off - only enough for an inter-confederation play-off berth. But it isn't out of the woods yet, as the trip to Trinidad and Tobago looms.

But Pulisic and his team-mates delivered in Orlando, scoring three first-half goals, to lift the CONCACAF Gold Cup champions above Panama and into third position heading into the final matchday of "Hexagonal" qualifying.

Serbia and Spain can each top their respective groups if results go in each team's favor, while Croatia and Iceland would set up an intriguing final matchday in Group I if both teams win on Friday. Costa Rica's next two matches are against Honduras and Panama. And if it happened, the U.S. would take fourth place. All that, of course, will be avoided with a simple victory in Trinidad.

On Friday, the US attack came out as a motivated group, and made a Panama side that had allowed just five goals in eight previous Hex matches look old and slow. If this team makes the World Cup - and that doesn't seem like a big if anymore - Pulisic be why. A case can also be made that Pulisic benefited from the speed in the USA lineup.

The days of taking about his potential are done. He dribbled at a Panamanian player just outside the penalty box. He's the kind of player who Americans are blessed to be able to call their own.

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