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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 06, 2017 8:20 pm

US desperate for win to stay in Cup race

RONALD BLUM Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. – Accustomed to qualifying for the World Cup with games to spare, United States players realize another slip could cause them to miss next year’s tournament, a circumstance that has swelled angst among a growing fan base.

“We need three points bad,” star teenage midfielder Christian Pulisic said ahead of today’s qualifier against Panama. “We want to come out flying.”

Fourth in the North and Central American and Caribbean region with two games left, the Americans still can earn one of the region’s three automatic berths.

They likely will need a win against the Panamanians followed by a victory or a draw Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago.

“I haven’t dwelled on what went wrong or what we didn’t do,” defender Omar Gonzalez said Thursday before the Americans practiced in a warm rain. “We all understand what needs to be done, how we need to step out on the field, the focus that we need to have, the match intensity we need to have throughout the 90-minutes plus.”

The Americans have lost two home games in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957, 2-1 to Mexico last November and 2-0 to Costa Rica last month – their first defeat in 16 games since Bruce Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann as coach.

El Tri have clinched with 18 points, and Los Ticos have 15 and are of the verge of securing a berth. The U.S (nine) would vault over Panama (10) into third with a win. Honduras also has nine points going into its match at Costa Rica today, but the U.S. has a plus-one goal difference to the Ticos’ minus-seven.

CONCACAF’s fourth-place nation goes to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria, tied 1-1 in their two-leg matchup heading into Tuesday’s game at Sydney.

Arena, who coached the national team from 1998-2006 before returning in November, brought in a new temporary assistant this week – Bob Bradley, who succeeded him as U.S. coach.

Bradley became the first American manager in England’s Premier League and has been hired to lead Los Angeles’ Major League Soccer expansion team that starts play next year.

He also is the father of U.S. captain Michael Bradley.

Panama and the U.S. have played four consecutive 1-1 ties, including a March 28 qualifier at Panama City.

Fouls of Pulisic prompted Arena to criticize Mexican referee Cesar Ramos and say “I think Panama thought there was a bull’s-eye on his back.”