Supporters of the US men’s national team can almost exhale.
The goal of this entire cycle has been clear: to qualify for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup. On Sunday at a packed Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Gregg Berhalter’s team took a huge leap in that direction with a 5-1 victory over Panama.
They did not officially secure a place in Qatar due to Costa Rica’s 2-1 victory in El Salvador, but at this point it will take an even bigger catastrophe than five years ago for them to fail to qualify, thanks to a great goal. difference. The USMNT secured a spot in the top four in CONCACAF standings, guaranteeing at least one spot in the inter-confederation playoffs this June, where they would face the best team from the weak Oceania region.
However, that is not what they want. They’re willing to punch your ticket straight, and the energy displayed in Orlando made that apparent. The first 10 minutes weren’t great, but the USMNT settled on a four-goal rampage from there before the halftime whistle.
Christian Pulisic clinched a pair of goals from the penalty spot, then put his stamp on victory with a bit of magic in the 65th minute to complete his hat-trick.
But the 71 minutes Pulisic played were a showcase of the captain at his best: wandering into free space, creating chances and even displaying a different level of intensity towards players, referees or anyone in his path.
Pulisic was as loaded as he could get, and why not? The bitter taste of Trinidad and Tobago from 2017 is all too familiar. Celebrating your worm’s goal? There’s work to be done there, but it’s a good problem when that was the worst that could be said about his performance.
While USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter is often criticized for, among many things, his heavy inclusion of MLS players on his rosters, those players made a big impact on Sunday. Just 5-foot-6, FC Dallas winger Paul Arriola leaped into the air and scored with an unusual header in the 23rd minute, on a play that began with a sensational long ball from Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman. .
Four minutes later, Arriola connected with FC Dallas teammate Jesús Ferreira in the box for another goal.
The second half, which at the time was just a formality, was a reminder to Berhalter of the depth available to him, as he was able to substitute the likes of Gio Reyna, Kellyn Acosta and Jordan Morris. And that even with key players like Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest and others missing. But Berhalter’s approach with this young team has always been that everyone contributes no matter the situation, and he has hit the first two games of this final qualifying window mostly.
So fans can throw out all the criticism, ideal lineup choices, and other what-if questions all they want. In many ways, Sunday was the culmination of a new era for US men’s soccer, and whether Berhalter likes it or not, he’s leading a team that (unlike Italy) won’t miss their second Cup of the World consecutive.
It will take a six-goal loss at Costa Rica on Wednesday for that nightmare to be on the line. Surely that’s not happening, right?
The job isn’t done yet, but it’s as close to it as it gets.