U.S. men's national soccer team effectively clinch spot at World Cup in Qatar with one qualifier left to play

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

ORLANDO — The U.S. men's national soccer team can start packing for the World Cup in Qatar.

Four years after missing soccer’s biggest event for the first time since 1986, the Americans effectively clinched a spot in this year’s edition with a 5-1 win over Panama on Sunday night. Needed less than a half to seal the deal, too.

Christian Pulisic converted penalties in the 17th and 45th minutes, Paul Arriola scored on a header in the 23rd and Jesus Ferreira added a third goal in the 27th minute. For good measure, Pulisic scored another in the 65th, giving him a hat trick.

Panama spoiled the U.S. shutout in the 86th with a goal by Anibal Godoy.

After the final whistle, fireworks went off and the sold-out crowd at Exploria Stadium let out a roar. But it was a very workmanlike response by the USMNT, who simply slapped hands with each other on their way onto the field.

Concacaf’s top three teams automatically qualify for Qatar, with the fourth-place team going to a playoff in June against a team from Oceania. The Americans are second and Costa Rica, which is currently fourth, would have to win Wednesday night’s game against the USMNT by six or more goals to bump the U.S. men out of the top three.

The most goals the Ticos have scored against the USMNT is four, coming in the last World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica in 2016. That was Jurgen Klinsmann’s last game as the U.S. coach.

As big a disappointment as failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia was, it also paved the way for what is, arguably, the most talented group the USMNT has ever had.

Of the 11 starters Sunday night, all but five play in Europe. Big clubs, too. Pulisic and Zack Steffen are in the English Premier League, while Antonee Robinson’s Fulham is the top team in the Championship, the next level down. Yunus Musah is in Spain and Tyler Adams is in Germany.

And that doesn’t include Gio Reyna, Ricardo Pepi and Gianluca Buso, who were available as substitutes; Tim Weah, who missed the game because of yellow card accumulation; and Weston McKennie, who has a broken foot.

While these Americans are young and, compared to recent U.S. teams, inexperienced in big international tournaments, there is no denying their talent. Or their swagger. USMNT fans, still not over the shock of 2018, have spent the last seven months nervously watching the Concacaf standings and obsessing over goal differential while the players never seemed to have any doubts.

“It’s just a mindset now,” Pulisic said last week. “We’re a confident bunch of guys and we go into any game thinking that we can win.”

Christian Pulisic reacts during the USMNT's win over Panama in a World Cup qualifier.
Christian Pulisic reacts during the USMNT's win over Panama in a World Cup qualifier.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: Stay up to date with our sports newsletter

MORE: Canada qualifies for World Cup for first time in 36 years

The Costa Rica game was over before the U.S. kicked off against Panama, so the Americans knew they couldn’t officially clinch Sunday night. But they also knew they could do everything but, and they wasted no time in doing it.

On a corner kick in the 13th minute, Godoy put his hands around Walker Zimmerman’s neck and threw him to the ground in the penalty area. Play continued until Zimmerman’s protests drew the attention of the ref, who called for a video review.

The Americans were awarded a penalty after the review, and Pulisic buried it to give the Americans the only goal they’d need for the win.

But the USMNT also knew that every goal they scored against Panama would put them further and further from the possibility of falling into that playoff spot. Six minutes later, Robinson sent a ball into the box and Arriola nodded it past Luis Mejia to make it 2-0.

Four minutes after that, it was Arriola with the assist, slotting the ball to Ferriera, who scored from close range.

Pulisic finished off the scoring in the first half, converting a penalty in stoppage time that was awarded after Godoy was given a yellow card for another WWE move, this time on Miles Robinson.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Christian Pulisic's three goals lead USMNT back to World Cup