The United States Men’s National Team has turned Exploria Stadium into its fortress. The venue may not be the official national stadium for the USMNT but it sure seems like it with the way the squad plays in Orlando City’s purple palace. The USMNT hasn’t lost a match at Exploria Stadium and the team may not have played a bigger match there than it did on Sunday evening.
The Yanks needed a win to keep pace in a tight Concacaf Octagonal race, with Canada already having clinched one of the confederation’s three automatic World Cup berths earlier in the day with its win over Jamaica. The U.S. is battling with Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica, and last week’s draw at the Azteca — which could have been a win if not for two missed sitter — put the team in good position. However, a Costa Rica win against El Salvador meant that the Yanks couldn’t clinch a World Cup berth Sunday night. All the U.S. could do was improve its chances, and boy did it ever do that in a convincing 5-1 win over Panama.
Christian Pulisic scored his first USMNT hat trick with two goals from the penalty spot and a highlight reel play for his third. Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira both chipped in a goal and just about everyone played well. Shaq Moore provided an energy boost at right back, Luca de la Torre and Tyler Adams provided some highlight moments in the midfield. Antonee Robinson supplied dangerous balls for his attacking players. Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson battened down the hatches in central defense.
The only blemish on the evening was a late set piece goal by Panama.
The United States didn’t clinch but enters Wednesday’s match at Costa Rica in an excellent spot. The Yanks are through to the World Cup with a win, a draw, or a loss, provided they don’t fall by more than five goals. Sunday night in Orlando provided a much-needed boost in goal differential entering the final match day. The finishing line is in sight and now it’s time for the USMNT to go out and finish.
We hope you enjoy these images from a magical night in an incredible atmosphere at Exploria Stadium.
Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro