Dallas Burn striker Eddie Johnson scored a hat trick in the space of 17 minutes after Landon Donovan had earlier scored a pair of goals, leading the USA into the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with a 6-0 rout of Panama on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium.
Donovan had hit for goals on either side of halftime to send the USA on their way, then just minutes after coming on as a substitute in just his second international appearance, Johnson scored goals in the 70th, 84th and 87th minutes to secure advancement to the six-team final group beginning early next year.
The United States now has 11 points from their five matches in the semifinal round, undefeated in the group with three victories and two draws with one match remaining, Nov. 17 against Jamaica in Columbus, Ohio.
The USA sent an early warning sign when both central defenders just missed on good chances within the opening five minutes. Eddie Pope poked a free kick whipped in from the right flank just outside of the right post, then Gregg Berhalter went just wide of the other post with a header after Brian McBride headed a restart across the face of goal.
McBride should have opened the scoring for the USA on the quarter hour when he was left all alone in front of goal. DaMarcus Beasley set off on a mazy run across the field before slipping a quick pass into Eddie Lewis, whose flick found McBride to the left of the goal as he turned out of a tackle. But the Fulham-based (England) striker drove his shot into the side netting.
But shortly after, Donovan hit for his first after an equally cultured buildup in the 21st minute. A great pass from Lewis sprung Josh Wolff on the left flank, and he picked out Donovan racing through the center of the area with all the time in the world, the San Jose Earthquakes star neatly tucking the ball inside the near post.
Unlike the group match between the countries in Panama on Sept. 8, the USA back four did a much better job dealing with crosses from the flank, especially the right where Ricardo Phillips had some effect. But the towering strike pair of Roberto Brown and Julio Dely Valdes was largely kept without any clear chances.
After the break, the USA came out immediately looking for a second. A perfectly-weighted through ball from McBride put Wolff in alone on Gonzalez in the 51st minute, but the Panamanian 'keeper was quickly off his line to save with his body. Then five minutes later Donovan sent in a teasing cross, but Bocanegra and McBride just couldn't apply the final touch.
But barely a minute later the U.S. struck for a deserved second. Kerry Zavagnin collected a pass in midfield before completely wrong-footing the Panama back four with a wonderful flick with the outside of the boot. Donovan took the ball into the box before rounding Gonzalez and providing the final touch from the spot.
Panama responded with their best threats of the match, both through Dely Valdes. He was first sent through on an angled run to goal in the 65th minute, but Berhalter tackled the ball away just as he tried to cut back. Then from the ensuing corner he got free from his marker, but put his header off the top of the crossbar.
The USA grabbed their third with 15 minutes left on a wonderful goal. Bocanegra put in a pinpoint cross from the left corner, Johnson shaking off his marker before heading neatly back across the face of goal and inside Gonzalez's right-hand post.
Johnson narrowly missed another great chance five minutes later when he broke away from the Panama back line and raced in alone, but Gonzalez trapped the shot between his legs.
But the 20-year-old striker didn't miss in the 84th minute when he scored his second goal, heading home from close range after the USA were able to head the ball back and forth in front of goal, Johnson nodding home a Bocanegra volley.
Johnson then completed his hat trick three minutes later, tapping home from close range after the U.S. passing carved up the Panama defense, Pablo Mastroeni freeing Lewis on the left who sent a rolling cross into the goal area. It was the first hat trick in a qualifying match for the USA since 1968, and for Johnson came in just his second full international appearance. He scored in his international debut on Saturday in El Salvador, just four minutes after coming on as a 71st-minute substitute.
The USA then scored their third goal in six minutes - and fourth in 20 minutes - to complete the rout. Donovan again played provider, swinging a free kick from the left that was met by McBride, Johnson and Oguchi Onyewu all driving to goal, an own goal awarded after a glancing header from the pack was deflected past Gonzalez by defender Jose Anthony Torres.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.