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USA vs. Panama: Illustrated box score

It looked better on the field than it does here

Soccer: 2018 World Cup Qualifier-Panama at USA Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

And to think we were worried. In a game that saw a month long lead up of handwringing takes about how the U.S. didn’t deserve to make the Men’s World Cup, takes about why it would be good for the U.S. to miss the Men’s World Cup, takes about who the U.S. would prefer to play in a qualifying playoff, takes about the roster decisions, and a letter from Bruce Arena to fans explaining that the team would try hard, the U.S. Men’s National Team came away with a 4-0 win to take 3rd place in the Hex heading into their final qualifying match on Tuesday.

In the end, all of the problems that face U.S. Soccer will still be there, they weren’t going anywhere with the U.S. missing the Men’s World Cup, but at least now they get to be there while the team is in a strong position to qualify for the tournament.

Anyway, Friday was a fun night. The U.S. attacked with the kind of aggressiveness the team usually only displays against CONCACAF minnows like Martinique Cuba. Better still, it looked like Panama did everything they possibly could do accommodate the likes of Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic, and Paul Arriola. In fact, they barely spent the game cynically kicking them at every opportunity because they were too busy thinking they could do what Costa Rica did against the U.S. last month in Harrison, New Jersey. The Red, Red, and Red might have been lucky not to concede a goal, but in the end the 4-0 score held until the 90th minute.

Here’s what it looked like...

If this was a statement game for the U.S. it was a declaration that the hate Jozy Altidore gets is at best undeserved and at worst completely ridiculous. His passing was terrific, his willingness to drop into midfield was superb, and he had a massive game.

For Panama, the game plan seemed to hinge on putting aside what worked and trying something new and a few times they almost pulled it off. Armando Cooper coming on before the half hour mark changed the tone of the game for Los Canaleros and he almost set up several goals. Still, the number of times Jaime Penedo was one on one with a U.S. player made him look like the keeper who replaced him on the LA Galaxy when he decided to take his talents to Romania.

The team stats tell a little different story...

In the end, this was a good game but the U.S. has one more match it needs a result into make it to Russia. They can seal their trip to Russia with a win on Tuesday, but Honduras and Panama can still conceivably finish above the U.S. in the Hex and the U.S. is still at risk of missing the top 4 places depending on the remaining qualifying matches.