Christian Pulisic just short of perfect 10 leading U.S. to massive win
Facing the possibility of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the United States men's national team responded with a resounding 4-0 win over Panama at Orlando City Stadium on Friday night in Orlando, Florida. Christian Pulisic starred, but the win was a team effort for a beleaguered group in desperate need of a strong performance.
With an ultra-attacking mentality that brought as much risk as it did possible reward, the Americans made their chances count to take a 3-0 halftime lead. Pulisic stole the show, illustrating that it's not necessary to get the teenager a wealth of touches for him to impact the game. The attacking group as a whole -- Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Bobby Wood -- worked well in combination, especially on the counter.
The flipside of the attacking posture the Americans took was acres of space left in front of their backline. Michael Bradley did what he could floating across the field as a lone shield, but a reactive posture from the center-back pairing exacerbated problems at the back. A lack of defensive work from the flanks of the "diamond" contributed as well. Luckily for the U.S., Panama wasn't good enough to take advantage.
Manager rating out of 10:
8.5 -- Bruce Arena took a chance and it worked. Whatever tactical naivety Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez showed with his choices, the U.S. boss deserves credit for trusting his team to score goals and mitigate the defensive vulnerabilities inherent in the formation. If there are any bones to pick with Arena, it's regarding his choice to leave Pulisic on the field as long as he did with the youngster facing physical play from Panama.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Tim Howard, 6.5 -- Not asked to do much, with just two simple saves on the evening.
DF DeAndre Yedlin, 8.5 -- Showed why he's the first-choice right-back whenever healthy. Used his speed to help cover for a shaky central defense on more than one occasion.
DF Omar Gonzalez, 5.5 -- Shaky and reactive for much of the night. Made a few important clearances in the air. Seemed unsure of his partnership with Matt Besler.
DF Matt Besler, 5.5 -- Dropped too quickly and allowed space for Panama players at the top of the box, especially in the first half. Improved in the second half.
DF Jorge Villafana, 6 -- Competent, professional display on a night when he was not overly tested or asked to involve himself in the attack on a consistent basis.
MF Paul Arriola, 6.5 -- Just a touch or two off an excellent performance. Went missing at times but added more midfield defensive work in the second half with the U.S. leading.
MF Michael Bradley, 7 -- Left isolated in front of the back line until Dax McCarty's introduction, did what he could to slow down Panama. Pushed the Americans forward to establish tone in the first half.
MF Darlington Nagbe, 6 -- Started brightly, driving the ball out of midfield to set up American dominance. Played a perfect pass on the second goal to spring the break, but was lost on defensive side of the ball much of the night.
MF Christian Pulisic, 9.5 -- A near perfect performance from the teenager. Provided danger on every touch of the ball, and set the game up for the Americans with the opening goal. His star rises higher.
FW Bobby Wood, 8 -- Rewarded with a goal a half hour from full time after a full night of providing energy and danger. Won a penalty that led to a goal and was key to more than one counter-attack.
FW Jozy Altidore, 8.5 -- Did everything asked of him, including scoring a goal. The tap-in finish was simple, but his work dropping in and flicking on balls for advancing midfielders was crucial to the excellent first half and his cheeky Panenka penalty was well taken.
MF Dax McCarty, 7.5 -- Did exactly as asked when inserted to change the U.S. midfield and get Pulisic out of harm's way. Passed the ball with precision and intelligence.
FW Clint Dempsey, NR -- Had limited touches and never really impacted the game.
MF Alejandro Bedoya, NR -- Helped see out the match in a late cameo.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.