ORLANDO, Fla. – With US national team hopes precariously poised before a massive night at Orlando City Stadium, a clutch 4-0 rout of Panama gave Bruce Arena's team both a crucial three points and a critical psychological boost on the road to Russia 2018.
Although the job is far from done, with another decisive match in Trinidad & Tobago still awaiting next Tuesday, the difference in the team’s communal psyche was clear to see and hear after a one-sided game that had the Americans in comfortable training ground mode long before the end.
Fans could almost be forgiven for wondering “Stress? What stress?” as Jozy Altidore’s brace separated glorious goals by rising superstar Christian Pulisic and Bundesliga regular Bobby Wood in a win that has given the US a glimpse of the finish line.
“We are well placed to hopefully get to Russia [after that],” Arena insisted. “Despite what some people think, we have had a good year, and that was certainly a good win for our team.
“Last November we were 0-2 with a minus five goal differential, so we have had a 10-goal change since then and we are doing well. We have advanced from sixth to third and we know we just have to finish it off now.”
Arena’s calm, assured approach was certainly in evidence throughout the team, with the return of DeAndre Yedlin among numerous strong performances in the eyes of the coach.
“I was happy to get him back in,” Arena pointed out. “He took their No. 8 out of the game and played against some very good players tonight and looked good. He continues to grow and definitely helps the team.”
“You can’t do much better than that," Arena said. "We wanted to push five players forward in attack as aggressively as we could, and those three were central to what we wanted to do. We might have had more goals. We didn’t finish particularly well, but we have definitely done the job tonight.”
Arena expects his men to be equally prepared on Tuesday night to clinch a place in Russia next summer. He insists he is taking nothing for granted against a Trinidad and Tobago side that is already eliminated. But he clearly expects the US to complete the task.
“They [Trinidad] can play relaxed or very aggressive. I suspect they are going to be a handful,” he insisted. “So we have to respect our opposition, put the right players on the field and understand the conditions [out there]. It is up to us to get those things right.”