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USMNT vs Panama final score: Pulisic drives U.S. to brink of World Cup

Christian Pulisic scored his first national team hat trick and Gregg Berhalter pushed all the right buttons as the USMNT moved to the precipice of returning to the World Cup with a 5-1 win over Panama in Florida on Sunday.

The Yanks are now going to the World Cup next winter provided they don’t lose by six or more goals to Costa Rica on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic’s hat trick | Player ratings | Canada clinches ]

Pulisic scored two penalties, Paul Arriola planted a perfect header inside the far post, and Jesus Ferreira also scored as the Yanks led 3-0 at the break and had a 5-0 advantage before Anibal Godoy scored a late goal for Los Canaleros. Godoy also conceded both of the penalties converted by Pulisic.

[ MORE: World Cup draw details ]

Costa Rica will host the USMNT at 9:05pm ET Wednesday in their unlikely bid to turn the tables on the Yanks and Mexico to claim a top-three spot in CONCACAF. The fourth-placed team will play in the inter-confederation playoff against the top-ranked team from Oceania.

USMNT vs Panama final score, stats

USMNT 5, Panama 1

Scorers: Pulisic (pen 17', pen 45', 65'), Arriola (23'), Ferreira (27'), Godoy (86')

Shot attempts: USMNT 15, Panama 10

Shots on goal: USMNT 5, Panama 2

Possession: USMNT 40, Panama 60

Three things we learned from USMNT vs Panama

1. A great night for U.S. Soccer and an even better day from its manager: Gregg Berhalter has his critics -- hand raised, here -- but he had one of those days where every decision with his lineup went as he’d hoped and even the one he may not have gone in his favor, too, when a stomach bug made Giovanni Reyna unfit to start and plugged Paul Arriola into the Starting XI.

Calling in Shaq Moore over Joe Scally? The Tenerife right back’s overlapping run and pass was a huge part of the third goal. Starting Luca de la Torre and Jesus Ferreira? Both had a hand in that same goal. Arriola’s start, intended or not, led to a near-perfect headed goal and an assist all in the first half-hour.

Berhalter would’ve won over a lot of critics for his team’s performances against Mexico alone, one of which came with an entirely different team, but today the U.S. showed a variety of attacking ideas, their typical lack of fear, and the sort of performance that feels good whether it ends 4-0, 1-0, or even 0-0. That’s the point of raising expectations for this team. Winning ugly counts, yes. Losing pretty isn’t good, obviously, but it’s forgiven more easily. Too often in this cycle have we seen a team play down or even below its competition. Not this time. Kudos to the boss.

But also kudos to the national team program and soccer in these here United States, because the United States men’s national team was without a bevy of players who might’ve been deemed irreplaceable in other qualifying cycles. Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, and Brenden Aaronson were out through injury. Timothy Weah was suspended for yellow card accumulation. Norwich City’s Josh Sargent and Bundesliga stalwarts John Brooks and Joe Scally didn’t even get invited to take flights across the Atlantic.

2. VAR much needed with CONCACAF referees: Walker Zimmerman was mauled by Anibal Godoy in the box on a USMNT corner kick and every American player on the field was baffled why it wasn’t immediately given as a penalty. Replays showed why Zimmerman was so angry, with hands to the face joined by a shove on the back and -- ironically -- a possible handball at the tail end. A referee who looked dead set on “letting them play” and thus not directly having a say in the outcome was told to check the screen by the Video Assistant Referee. He pointed to the spot and Christian Pulisic’s penalty was an emphatic one.

3. Don’t tell John Locke Christian Pulisic what he can’t do aka Deuce Day for CP10: On an average day of Christian Pulisic’s life, the U.S. captain hits the pitch with what can easily be described as a “chip-on-his-shoulder-bleep-you” streak.

So when the USMNT and Chelsea star was habitually fouled by Panama, pounded in a pair of penalties in the first half, and essentially displayed all of the pent-up frustration he collected while showing out in the last qualifying cycle and not getting to play in his first World Cup, well, it was glorious.

In fact, Pulisic’s getting up to shoulder barge a Panama player after being shoved to the turf was just such a moment for the American. No, it wasn’t smart given what happened to Mark Anthony Kaye and Canada earlier this week, but it was the latest step in Pulisic’s transition from elite player to Clint Dempsey-level talisman. There wasn’t a “Deuce Face,” but there sure was a lot of Deuce to it. And when you’re going to a World Cup (barring a catastrophic failure on Wednesday), it’s good to be able to channel a man who lived for that stage.

Watch all the goals from his hat trick here.

Man of the Match:

Christian Pulisic + important penalties = Done deal

We saw it in the CONCACAF Nations League Final and now again here: The kid doesn’t mess around when it comes to putting his weight behind a penalty.

Arriola grows springs in the forest, gets scrappy in tight

Paul Arriola is an industrious player who always gives 100 percent and looked set to be a USMNT fixture (again) before tearing his ACL.

It looked like he was destined to be a sub tonight with Giovanni Reyna back healthy, but the Dortmund man caught a stomach bug and was only fit for the bench.

FC Dallas’ new big-money transfer is never short on confidence and his goal to make it 2-0 was fitting. Arriola climbed the ladder to turn a near-perfect header inside the far post.

He’d add an assist -- official credit pending due to a funny bounce -- when he was in a good place to help a well-worked team goal get to Jesus Ferreira on the doorstep. The party was on.

Follow @NicholasMendola