Altidore then made it 3-0 just before the half, chipping in a penalty kick after Bobby Wood was taken down by Armando Cooper in the 18-yard box. Wood then closed the scoring 18 minutes into the second half, taking a short pass from Paul Arriola with his back to the net, spinning and sending a right-footed shot by a pair of stationary defenders and into the back of the net.
The four goals marked the most Panama has given up in a World Cup qualifier since a 6-0 loss to the U.S. in October 2004 while for the U.S. the four scores equaled its total output in its previous four qualifiers. The result also ended Panama's four-game unbeaten streak against the Americans.
The U.S. didn't get out of the game unscathed, however, with Pulisic limping off the field briefly early in the second half favoring his right ankle after a strong tackle by Anibal Godoy. After a few short sprints on the sideline, he was allowed to stay in briefly before being replaced by Dax McCarty in the 57th minute.
But while Friday's win greatly improved the Americans' chances of reaching the World Cup, it didn't clinch a berth. A U.S. loss in Trinidad combined with a Panama win next week would leave the Americans no better than fourth in the standings, sending them into a two-leg intercontinental playoff against either Syria or Australia with the final World Cup berth at stake. That's the route Mexico followed to the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
And Honduras could complicate even that scenario because if the U.S. doesn't win its final game, the Central Americans could pass it by beating Costa Rica on Saturday and Mexico next week in its last two qualifiers. That could drop the U.S. as low as fifth in the standings, leaving it with no way to qualify for Russia.
But for now the Americans, who haven't gone into the final day of qualifying with their World Cup status in doubt since 1989, control their own destiny. Win and they're in; anything short of that and there's a chance they could be watching the World Cup on television.
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