Jozy Altidore and Christian Pulisic

The U.S. Men’s National Team hammered Panama 4-0 on Friday night to give their World Cup hopes a massive boost, jumping up to third place in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal with one qualifier still to play.


A Jozy Altidore brace and strikes from Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood paced the U.S. MNT to an emphatic win at Orlando City Stadium, putting the Americans in prime position to make their eighth consecutive World Cup appearance.


Head coach Bruce Arena’s men are now two points ahead of fourth-place Panama, with the top three finishers in the Hex earning automatic berths to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia next summer. The fourth-place finisher, meanwhile, will face Australia or Syria in a two-legged World Cup playoff in November.


Hexagonal Standings

Team
PTS
W
L
D
GF
GA
GD
Mexico&nbsp;<strong>(Q)</strong>
21
6
0
3
14
4
+10
Costa Rica
15
4
1
3
12
5
+7
United States
12
3
3
3
16
11
+5
Panama
10
2
3
4
7
9
-2
Honduras
9
2
3
3
9
16
-7
Trinidad and Tobago
3
1
8
0
5
18
-13

Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler started and played 90 minutes on Friday to collect his 46th cap — anchoring a defense that limited Panama to two shots on goal — while his club teammates Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi were unused substitutes. All three will remain with the U.S. squad for Tuesday’s Hexagonal finale against Trinidad and Tobago at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago (7 p.m. CT, beIN SPORTS, Universo).


Wood came agonizingly close to firing the U.S. ahead after just five minutes, poking inches wide off a cross from Altidore. The attack foreshadowed a resounding performance from the hosts, who surged in front three minutes later.


Tim Howard’s long goal kick downfield was deftly flicked by Wood into the path of Altidore, who laid the ball to Pulisic in the central channel. The 19-year-old wunderkind took a brilliant first touch to burst behind the Panama back line, round goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and slot home from a tight angle to ignite wild celebrations inside the stadium.


With momentum firmly on their side, the Americans went two goals to the good in the 19th minute on a flowing and incisive move down the left side. Pulisic raced onto Darlington Nagbe’s floated ball over the top, squared up his defender and slipped a delicious cross to the far post for Altidore to lash into the back of the net — his first goal in eight World Cup qualifying appearances.


Altidore bagged his second and the Yanks’ third in the 43rd minute after Wood did well to accelerate into the box and draw a penalty kick. The Toronto FC striker's panenka gave his side a comfortable 3-0 lead at intermission.


U.S. tails remained up after the restart, and a fourth goal came in the 63rd minute when Paul Arriola combined neatly with Wood, who picked out the far left corner to notch his 10th international goal. Arriola nearly turned goal scorer in the late stages, but a superb one-on-one save from Penedo thwarted the D.C. United midfielder.