USA 5-1 Panama: Christian Pulisic's hat-trick propels side to the brink of World Cup qualification

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Christian Pulisic #10 of the United States shoots a penalty kick in the first half against Panama at Exploria Stadium on March 27, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.


Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic fired his first international hat-trick in USA's 5-1 win over Panama on Sunday night, leading his side to the brink of World Cup qualification for the first time since 2014.

Two of USA captain's goals came from the penalty spot before completing his treble with a stunning finish, spinning Panama defender Andres Andrade before converting from close range.

Only a loss of six or more goals in Wednesday night's finale at Costa Rica would cause the Americans not to get one of three automatic World Cup places in qualifying. They can finish no worse than fourth, which earns a June play-off, likely against New Zealand.

After the final whistle, the American players unfurled a red-and-blue banner with 'QUALIFIED' in bold, white letters but Pulisic insisted his team aren't celebrating too early.

The guys didn't know at all what it said. It was just hand handed to them,' the U.S. star said. 'Once we realized - there's no need to show that off because we still have a job to do. 

We honestly approach it like any other game. We're going to prepare exactly the same as we would if we needed a win.

Pulisic converted two penalty kicks during USA's four-goal burst in the first half that also saw Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira score.

Canada (28 points) had earlier secured their first World Cup place since 1986 with a 4-0 win over Jamaica. The U.S. (25) is second ahead of Mexico on goal difference and Costa Rica (22) is fourth.

While the U.S. has never won at Costa Rica, goal difference is the first tiebreaker, and the Americans are plus-13 to the Ticos' plus-three. The U.S. also has the second tiebreaker of total goals, 21 to 11.

But in October 2017, the U.S. defeated Panama 4-0 in Orlando and needed only a draw at Trinidad four days later but flopped to a 2-1 loss. Pulisic and Arriola are the only players who remain in the setup from that night.

I'm not celebrating anything, Arriola said. 'I was in this exact position or very similar position four years ago, and we know how that qualification ended.

Pulisic's 21 international goals include 12 in World Cup qualifying. Wearing the captain's armband, he scored in the 17th minute and fourth minute of first-half stoppage time, both after fouls by Anibal Godoy. Pulisic is 6-for-6 on penalty kicks in his U.S. career.

His 65th-minute goal was exquisite. After Luca de la Torre and Antonee Robinson twice exchanged passes, Robinson crossed. With his back to the goal, a spinning Pulisic took a touch with his left leg, spun around Fidel Escobar and dummied the ball through his own legs. Pulisic poked the ball with the outside of his right foot through the legs of Andres Andrade and slotted over the a leg of sliding goalkeeper of Luis Mejia with his right foot from 8 yards.

I just really want to play in a World Cup and so does this team,' Pulisic said. 'I'm just really happy that we're able to be in a good position to go do that and finish the job off.

His role involves making special plays and scoring some goals,' USA coach Greg Berhalter said. 'His defensive work rate, his duels, his second balls, his challenges passing, dribbling, you name it, he did it tonight.

Salvadoran referee Ivan Barton awarded the first penalty after a video review, concluding Godoy shoved the face of Walker Zimmerman, his Nashville teammatee.

Pulisic helped set up the second goal in the 23rd minute, running down a long ball from Zimmerman and dishing to Antonee Robinson, who crossed. Arriola, all of 5-foot-6, outjumped the 5-foot-11 Davis for his ninth international goal - just the second goal on a header in his professional career. 

Ferreira made it 3-0 in the 29th minute with a four-yard right foot shot that beat goalkeeper Luis Mejia. Ferreira's third international goal capped a flowing buildup that involved Shaq Moore (four touches), Yunus Musah and Arriola (two touches each) and Luca de la Torre.

Moore was a late addition as the fourth-choice right back after Sergino Dest hurt his thigh, DeAndre Yedlin was suspended for yellow-card accumulation and Reggie Cannon tested positive for COVID-19. About 20 members of the U.S. traveling party had gotten a stomach bug in Mexico.

Godoy's second penalty was for shoving Miles Robinson. Luis Mejia dived left, and Pulisic went to the keeper's upper right with the first kick. Mejia correctly guessed left on the second, but Pulisic's drive was too hard and too close to the post for the keeper to reach. The U.S. scored four goals in the opening half of a qualifier for the first time since a 5-2 win over Cuba in 1949.

After his second goal, Pulisic celebrated with a worm dance. His parents were in the sellout crowd of 25,022 and she shared the victory with them at the front of the stands after the final whistle.

They were just just told me they were proud,' Puisic said, his voice filled with emotion. They've been everything for me in my life. So it was just a nice moment.

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