Christian Pulisic scored a hat trick, including a first-half penalty kick brace, to power the US men’s national team to a 5-1 win over Panama in their penultimate match of Concacaf World Cup qualifying at Exploria Stadium Sunday.
The USMNT, which scored three times inside the opening 30 minutes and had a four-goal cushion at halftime, will look to book their spot in Qatar 2022 Wednesday night in Costa Rica with a win, draw or loss that doesn't reach a six-goal margin. Panama, which received an Anibal Godoy consolation goal four minutes from full time, were eliminated from qualification.
Pulisic opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 17th minute, burying his attempt to the left of goalkeeper Luis Mejia, who dived the other way. The penalty was given following Video Review, where it was determined Godoy had his hands on the neck of Nashville SC teammate Walker Zimmerman.
Paul Arriola doubled the lead on 23 minutes when the FC Dallas winger latched onto a sublime ball played into the box by Antonee Robinson and headed past a rooted Mejia from the edge of the six-yard box.
Jesus Ferreira made it 3-0 four minutes later, slamming in the rebound of a deflected Arriola shot in front of goal.
Pulisic had his penalty-kick brace in first-half stoppage time, going to the right of Mejia this time to give the USMNT a commanding 4-0 lead at the break. It was awarded after Godoy was judged to have made contact with another defender, this time Miles Robinson, battling for a 50-50 ball in the box.
Pulisic completed his hat trick in the 65th minute with a pair of sensational touches before a tidy finish capped a memorable night in Orlando.
- THE BIG PICTURE: Moments before kickoff, Costa Rica secured a 2-1 win over El Salvador, which meant a qualification party would be put on hold. But Exploria Stadium was still lit as the USMNT played with confidence, attacked with purpose and played arguably the best half of the Gregg Berhalter era to run roughshod over Panama.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: There were a lot of memorable moments, but how about Pulisic’s third goal — the two tremendous touches after receiving the ball from Antonee Robinson and the simple finish past Mejia.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: There are plenty of high marks to go around, but Pulisic gets the highest for his first-career USMNT hat trick.
- USA: Wednesday, March 30 at Costa Rica | 9:05 pm ET (CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, Universo, Peacock) | Concacaf World Cup Qualifying
- PAN: Wednesday, March 30 vs. Canada | 9:05 pm ET (Paramount+) | Concacaf World Cup Qualifying