ORLANDO • Christian Pulisic fired the United States to a 4-0 win over Panama on Friday that saw the Americans move closer to a 2018 World Cup berth.
The talented 19-year-old scored one goal and made another in a sensational early barrage that left Panama reeling.
Pulisic opened the scoring on eight minutes and beautifully set up strike partner Jozy Altidore to make it two and compound a nightmare start for fourth-placed Panama, who have nine points and look destined to settle for a play-off match against either Syria or Australia to land a World Cup place for the first time in their history.
Altidore's penalty made it 3-0 just seconds before half-time and Bobby Wood hit the fourth 18 minutes into the second half.
For the United States, the victory, which took them to third place with 12 points, was essential as they otherwise would have lost their ability to control their fate away to bottom side Trinidad and Tobago (three points) on Tuesday.
"The response was really strong," captain Michael Bradley said. "It was exactly what I expected. On a night where so much was on the line - maybe everything - we played in a way from the get-go that gave no doubt as to who was going to win the game."
Honduras (fifth, nine points), whose match in Costa Rica (second, 15 points) was put back a day because of adverse weather, also remain in the hunt in the North and Central America and Caribbean (Concacaf) region.
For the Americans, a win in Couva will seal their ticket for an eighth consecutive World Cup - and even a point should do it.
"The game in Trinidad won't be easy but we are in a good position now," said US manager Bruce Arena. "It will be challenging. We faced challenging conditions in Honduras and Panama so we will be ready. Trinidad are out but will be a handful."
Trinidad and Tobago seized the lead against Mexico in San Luis Potosi before the regional powerhouses roared back for a 3-1 victory. The result left Mexico on 21 points and on course for a record haul of 24 if they can beat Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST