By Karen Price | Oct. 06, 2017, 9:46 p.m. (ET)
Christian Pulisic (L) shoots against Keylor Navas of Costa Rica during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier at Red Bull Arena on Sept. 1, 2017 in Harrison, N.J.

 

The U.S. men’s soccer team did what it needed to do night, striking fast and often to defeat Panama 4-0 in the second-to-last FIFA World Cup qualifying match. 

Now in third place in the CONCACAF region, the U.S. needs only to beat last-place Trinidad and Tobago in the finale to lock in that spot and earn entry to Russia next summer. The U.S. team has appeared in the last seven consecutive World Cups, dating back to 1990.

In front of a hyped home crowd of 25,303 in Orlando, the men wasted little time getting on the board. 

Nineteen-year-old Christian Pulisic, who came into the match with three goals and three assists in qualifying matches this year, scored his fourth in the eight minute after getting a pass from Jozy Altidore, clearing three defenders for a breakaway and firing the ball in at an angle after Panama’s goalkeeper dropped. 

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Then in the 19th minute, Pulisic got the ball along the left side and drew the attention of Panama’s defenders, then found Altidore alone and perfectly positioned for a pass. Altidore’s goal made it 2-0, and then he scored again on a penalty, chipping the ball up and into the top of the net, to make it 3-0 in the 43rd minute.

Bobby Wood closed out the scoring in the 63rd minute, while Tim Howard recorded the clean sheet for the Americans. Howard was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team.

The U.S. entered the match in fourth place with nine points. The top three teams in CONCACAF — which includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean — automatically qualify for next summer’s World Cup, while the fourth-place team advances to a home-and-away playoff against Australia or Syria.

The U.S. now controls its destiny, as a win on Tuesday will clinch a top-three position and a spot in the World Cup.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.