Barring a monumental collapse in the final CONCACAF qualifier, the United States’ Men’s National Team will return to the World Cup in Qatar later this year after Christian Pulisic’s hat trick fueled a 5-1 win against Panama in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday.
With the top three nations earning automatic qualification, the second-place Americans (25 points) play at fourth-place Costa Rica (22) on Wednesday. The only way the U.S. does not qualify is if the Americans lose by six or more goals.
The U.S. is looking to qualify after failing to do so for the 2018 World Cup.
The pounding of Panama assures the worst the Americans can do is finish fourth, forcing a one-game playoff for the World Cup berth against the Oceania region winner in June.
First-place Canada (28 points) used a 4-0 win against visiting Jamaica on Sunday to qualify for the first time since 1986.
Mexico (25 points) also has 25 points but the U.S. is ahead on goal difference.
Pulisic with a penalty kick gave the U.S. the lead in the 17th minute after a video review ruled that Aníbal Godoy fouled Walker Zimmerman.
The lead went to 2-0 in the 23rd when Paul Arriola sent a powerful header from the 6-yard box to the upper right corner from a cross by Antonee Robinson.
Four minutes later, it was Arriola’s turn to be the set-up man. Shaq Moore got the ball to him and through a clutter of legs, Arriola made a pass to the center of the box where Jesús Ferreira slotted the ball for his third international goal.
Godoy committed another foul in the box in the fourth minute of first half stoppage time and Pulisic converted again for the 4-0 lead.
He knifed through the defense in the 65th minute for 5-0 advantage for his first U.S. hat trick and 12th goal in his qualifying career. He has 21 goals in 47 games.
Godoy broke the shutout in the 86th minute but it does not change what Costa Rica must overcome on Wednesday.
–Field Level Media