Bruce Arena lauds United States squad after Panama 'slugfest'

Going into Tuesday night's qualifier, Pulisic had three goals in his seven World Cup Qualifying matches. The match will kick-start at 10 PM tonight in Panama.

United States of America was in a bad spot heading into the worldwide break, but after thrashing Honduras and getting a draw against Panama, they are now back in the race for a spot in Russian Federation 2018. Playing on the road in the qualifying round is always a challenge, and Panama has gotten to this point, and deservedly so.

The United States remain in contention for a spot at next year's World Cup after Bruce Arena's side battled to a scrappy 1-1 away draw against Panama in CONCACAF qualifying on Tuesday.

"We wanted to creep up the table, and I think we did that these past 10 days", said Omar Gonzalez. We showed a lot more spirit, a lot more camaraderie, a team spirit that maybe we haven't seen in a long time.

"[Pulisic] was grown as a player here in the USA", a defiant Arena is quoted as saying by ESPN.

Panama retaliated with a scrappy goal from Gabriel Gomez just minutes before the half-time whistle and while both sides hunted for a victor in the second half, strong defensive plays from Tim Howard, Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez helped the USA see the game out and earn an important point on the road.

The top three teams in the group qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russian Federation.

The draw left Panama in third place in the CONCACAF qualifying standings with five points from four games. But finishing in the top three and avoiding finishing fourth and enduring a playoff against the fifth-placed Asian nation looks eminently realistic on the evidence of the past two games, provided home form holds up. We had to get a point. "We have to get a point".

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras bounced back from a 6-0 drubbing against the US last week by sharing the spoils with Costa Rica. "I kind of have a sense about things, but there's no point spending a whole lot of time investigating what went on in the past: good, bad or indifferent. Four is good. We look forward now to June". "We gained ground on everybody other than Mexico, and Mexico right now is an outlier".

In addition to its victory in Panama City that denied Panama a chance to play in the 2014 World Cup, the USA now has an 11-1-5 record against Los Canaleros and will face them again this summer in the Gold Cup, and then again in October in qualifying. MF Paul Arriola joined the team ahead of Tuesday's game, while D John Brooks, D Michael Orozco and F Jordan Morris were released from camp. Midfielder Sebastian Lletget came off with a foot injury expected to sideline him for four-to-six months.

At left back, Jorge Villafaña appears to have won the starting job, unless Arena wants Fabian Johnson to start there.

Now he sits just one goal and appearance (56 and 39) short of all-time USA leader, Landon Donovan (57 and 40). Despite being marked most of the time by two Hondurans, he managed to score once, get off a shot that ended up in first US goal and made passes setting up Dempsey twice. He also singlehandedly created a goal for Clint Dempsey, which only added another crown to his throne atop American soccer. He was repeatedly pushed and tugged and knocked down.

"I think Panama thought there was a bull's-eye on his back and went after him from minute 1", Arena said.

Leave it to the 18-year-old kid from Hershey to be the most poised and influential player for the USMNT in a tough away qualifier.

It's also important to remember just how many obstacles the U.S had to overcome in getting those four points. When you play against top defenders in Europe, they recognize the talent and they defend properly. They do. And steam through, the next one comes steaming through.

At least in the minds of the Americans their opponents were twofold, the pumped-up home side hungry for a big scalp, and the Mexican refereeing crew marshaled by Cesar Ramos.

Tasked with a right flank role for most of the match, Pulisic and his opposite number on the left Darlington Nagbe were fouled about as often as the rest of their teammates combined.

"Jaime Pinedo is one of the finest people I've ever met in the game", Arena said.

Arena moved him to the center of the midfield at home, then out wide at Panama when Jermaine Jones returned from a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.



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