Christian Pulisic bags a hat trick 

After Costa Rica’s win over El Salvador earlier in the day, the US men’s national team was unable to clinch its position in this winter’s World Cup, but its 5-1 triumph against Panama in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday night put it on the verge of qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Christian Pulisic scored his first hat trick for the national team, while Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira added goals as the Americans cruised to a lopsided victory that knocked Panama out of contention for a spot in Qatar. With 25 points and a second-place finish in CONCACAF’s final qualifying standings, the United States would need to lose by six goals to Costa Rica on Wednesday in order to be denied automatic entry and forced to compete in a playoff with the champions of Oceania.

Despite the mathematical plausibility, American players unfurled a red-and-blue banner with “QUALIFIED” emblazoned in bold, white letters at the end of the game.

“Despite what that banner may have stated, we know we’re not there yet,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said.

When Walker Zimmerman and Anibal Godoy tussled in the Panama box in the 15th minute, the US was given a penalty. Following a VAR review, it was determined that Godoy’s hands had struck Zimmerman in the face and that after the latter had fallen to the grass, Pulisic’s cross had found Godoy’s arm. Chelsea’s talisman and the night’s U.S. captain easily converted the subsequent penalty kick.

Berhalter said why he gave Pulisic the captain’s armband: “I guess because of the voyage.” “You’ve got someone who’s been there before. He was on the field when we didn’t make the playoffs. And we were telling him, “This is a new group, a new squad, and you’re the leader.”

Six minutes later, the hosts increased their lead. Arriola rose highest among a pair of Panamanian defenders to brilliantly send a looping header into the far corner after Antonee Robinson curled in a tempting pass from the left edge.

By the 27th minute, the margin had grown to 3-0. Arriola, Luca de la Torre, and Shaq Moore exchanged passes before a wayward ball found Ferreira inside the six-yard box, where the FC Dallas attacker calmly slammed home the Americans’ third goal.

In the second minute of first-half stoppage time, Panama captain Godoy surrendered a second penalty. Although contact between the two as they jostled for position looked slight, the Nashville SC midfielder was ruled to have struck Miles Robinson with an arm to the face, and Pulisic scored his second from the penalty spot before the sides went into the locker room.

Pulisic accomplished his hat trick 20 minutes into the second half, extending the Americans’ advantage to five goals. The US No. 10 bamboozled a couple of Panama defenders with some great tight control, bringing down a cross from De la Torre and shooting past Luis Mejia.

In the 86th minute, Godoy met Eric Davis’ cross and headed beyond the reach of Zack Steffen for a consolation goal for the visitors.

On Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, the USMNT will face the Ticos in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.

“We’ll approach it as if it were any other game,” Pulisic stated. “We’ll prepare the same way we would if we were in desperate need of a win.

“I simply want to play in a World Cup, and this squad does as well.

“I’m simply grateful that we’re in a position to go accomplish that and finish the job.”

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