United States Men’s National Team captain Christian Pulisic scored a hat trick — with two of those goals from the penalty spot — to lead the Yanks to a resounding 5-1 win over Panama at Exploria Stadium. Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira also scored as the U.S. put four on the board in the first half to take control of the match.
The USMNT still hasn’t lost in Exploria Stadium and tonight was the Yanks’ most decisive win to date. While the win by Costa Rica kept the U.S. from clinching a spot in the World Cup, the lopsided victory puts the USMNT on solid footing with one match to play in the qualifying campaign.
“We knew we were in a position where the group needed to respond, and when I look at the effort and intensity of the first half and the level that we’re playing, it was really impressive,” U.S. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. “You can see exactly what the guys took on, and and their motivation to get back to the World Cup. We scored five goals in the game, and I think we could have had more if we were a little bit more clinical at times, but we made a big step towards our goal of qualifying for the World Cup.”
Berhalter started Zack Steffen in goal behind a back line of Antonee Robinson, Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, and Shaq Moore. Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, and Luca de la Torre manned the midfield behind an attacking line of Pulisic, Ferreira, and Arriola.
Los Canaleros looked to keep possession and work for a good shot early while the Yanks seemed content to pick their spots to press and look for transition opportunities. Panama had a good early spell of possession and Adalberto Carrasquilla fizzed a hard shot over Steffen’s crossbar in the eighth minute.
Arriola drew a free kick on the right just outside the penalty area in the 10th minute and that eventually led to the U.S. breakthrough. Pulisic went for goal on the free kick and it took a deflection, giving the USMNT a corner. Miles Robinson knocked down the corner cross in the box and Moore was the first to it, sending a hard shot/cross toward goal, where it was knocked out for another corner.
Zimmerman went down hard on the second U.S. corner kick of the match and was slow to get up. On a stoppage after the ensuing run of play, Zimmerman smartly picked up the ball to delay the restart, which allowed referee Ivan Barton to have a chat with the video assistant referee, Marco Ortiz.
Barton went to the monitor to look at the play again and determined that Panama’s Anibal Godoy had fouled his Nashville SC teammate in the area. The penalty was awarded and Pulisic smashed it just under the bar to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
Panama tried to pull that goal right back with some quick and physical play and a ball into the area nearly found a friendly head in the area in the 20th minute. Steffen went up and did just enough to prevent a goal and the ball pinged around in the box and was close enough for the keeper to grab. Whether he didn’t see it or couldn’t get his body into position, the loose ball continued to elude everyone until the defense could finally clear it and calm down the mad scramble.
“Panama’s a good team, and you could see that guys were processing everything and dealing through working through the pressure of the game and the physicality of Panama,” Berhalter said. “And thankfully we had the breakthrough, and the guys put a lot into it.”
Moments later, Robinson was sent down the left side and sent in a perfect cross. Arriola rose to meet it and flicked it into the right side of the net to double the lead in the 23rd minute.
“I was super happy with the goal and obviously to help the team,” Arriola said after the match. “As an attacking player, it’s always important to try and make your mark and be productive in the final third.”
The U.S. wasn’t done. Four minutes later, a good buildup ended up on Moore’s foot and his cross deflected in. Ferreira was the first to it and slipped it home to make it 3-0 in the 27th minute.
It was the first time that the USMNT had scored three goals in the first half in a World Cup qualifier since the last time the U.S. and Panama played a qualifier in Orlando in October of 2017.
The game calmed down for a bit after that, with much of the play between the boxes. But the end of the first half produced more fireworks.
After Godoy flashed a shot just wide of the left post for Panama, the Yanks were looking for more at the other end. A quick passing sequence unlocked Antonee Robinson down the left and he put in a dangerous cross. Arriola headed it back across the front of goal and Ferreira went for a bicycle kick but it sailed over the bar.
Pulisic made it four with his second goal from the spot on the night in first-half stoppage time. Godoy was booked and Barton wasted no time in pointing to the spot. The captain stepped up and smashed it into the top right corner. Luis Mejia guessed correctly but couldn’t keep it out and the U.S. lead bulged to 4-0.
The United States took its four-goal lead into the break. Panama held 60.7% of the possession and passed more accurately in the opening half (75.7%-71.7%), but the Yanks had more shots (10-5), shots on target (4-1), and corners (2-1).
Panama came out of the locker room strong, pressing high and forcing the U.S. into several turnovers. The back line had to do some emergency defending, with two big blocks by Antonee Robinson and a vital sliding block by Tyler Adams to deny Alberto Quintero.
Gaby Torres sent a header toward goal after that deflection but Steffen was there to catch it.
Second-half sub Gio Reyna had a big impact on the game. Just moments after the restart, he flashed a shot just wide of the left post from the right corner of the box. His passing unlocked a couple of opportunities that the U.S. was unlucky not to finish, including a ball to de la Torre, who found Ferreira in front. The FC Dallas striker had a great opportunity to make it 5-0, but he fired just over the bar from about 10 yards out.
Great play from the USMNT nearly makes it 5-0 pic.twitter.com/eWVc40ibyA— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 28, 2022
Pulisic continued the onslaught in the 65th minute. Taking a ball from Robinson on the left, the captain deftly cradled the ball on his foot, spun around two defenders, and slotted home his third goal of the match, making it 5-0.
“There’s something special about Christian,” Arriola said. “And, you know, him as our captain tonight, to be able to step up a couple times to finish PKs, and then his great run and finish that he had for his third goal was great. I mean, he’s a great kid, great leader, obviously unbelievable, even better person, so i’m super happy for him.”
Panama pulled one back late on a free kick. Substitute Aaron Long appeared to do well in breaking up a counter attack but was called for a foul and booked. Godoy got onto the ensuing cross from Eric Davis and nodded into the bottom left corner, well out of Steffen’s reach in the 86th minute.
Panama pulls one back on a set piece to make it 5-1 pic.twitter.com/vdCiqCR62u— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 28, 2022
From there, the U.S. simply booted the ball up the field and saw out the remaining time to cap the victory. Panama held the advantage in possession (60.5%-39.5%), and passed more accurately (82.1%-76.4%), but the U.S. fired more shots (15-10), got more on target (5-2), and won more corners (3-2).
The match had an electric atmosphere throughout, even after the U.S. had taken its huge lead. That energy transferred to the players on the pitch.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” Berhalter said. “We enjoy playing in Orlando, this is exactly why. The crowd, even when we arrived at the stadium, the people in their seats and cheering and really help boost the team.”
The USMNT will finish World Cup qualifying on Wednesday at Costa Rica. The United States can qualify with a win, a draw, or a loss by five or fewer goals.
“We know we still have a game to go, and it’s a difficult game in Costa Rica,” Berhalter said. “So, our job right now is to recover, do regeneration. and then the healthy guys, fit guys, get them on the field and go compete in San Jose, where we’ve never won before.”
“I’m not celebrating anything,” Arriola said. “I was in this exact position, or a very similar position four years ago, and we know how that that qualification ended. So, for me, I think it’s just maintaining focus, understanding that we still have work to do, and anything is possible. The mentality of this group is, and has to be, to go down there to get a good result against Costa Rica.”