USA can keep World Cup hopes alive by beating Panama
World Cup qualifying
12.35am Friday night
The Stars & Stripes need six points from their last two group matches to secure automatic qualification and are long odds-on favourites to finish off with a victory away to basement boys Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday.
However, any dropped points could be disastrous for Bruce Arena's side, who occupy fourth place (the playoff qualification slot). They are one point behind third-placed Panama and ahead of fifth-placed Honduras only on goal difference.
USA have won two of their last three home qualifiers, beating Honduras 6-0 with the help of a Clint Dempsey hat-trick and Trinidad & Tobago 2-0 with a brace from Christian Pulisic.
Dempsey has battled back from an injury-hit 2016, scoring 12 goals for Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer this season.
But 19-year-old Pulisic is the classiest player in the USA ranks and has an impressive record at international level, scoring seven goals in 18 matches.
Pulisic is becoming a key player for Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, featuring in important league and Champions League fixtures, and his excellent technique, vision and eye for goal should give the USA a decisive advantage.
Panama are a hard side to beat but their two qualifying defeats have come on the road at Trinidad & Tobago (1-0) and Mexico (1-0).
They lack the quality USA possess at the top end of the pitch and rely on veteran strikers Blas Perez and Luis Tejada (aged 36 and 35), who have international goal tallies of 40 and 42 respectively.
However, Panama failed to qualify for World Cups when Perez and Tejada were in their prime and their latest attempt to join the elite could be damaged by a loss in Florida.
1pt 4-7 general
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