USA players (pictured) celebrate after scoring against El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals on July 19, 2017, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. (Photo: AFP Services)
ORLANDO, Florida -- Christian Pulisic was succinct and to the point.
"We need three points bad," said 19-year-old midfielder of the United States' near must-win situation against Panama in its penultimate CONCACAF qualifying match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Friday night.
A win will keep the fourth-place Americans' (2W-3D-3L, 9 points) hopes alive of reaching Russia directly.
"Games don't get much better," captain Michael Bradley commented. "We've played in games where we need points and there's a sense of urgency. You get to the end and our margin for error is virtually gone."
Even if the U.S. defeats the Canaleros, a win at Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday may still be required to book a spot in an eighth consecutive World Cup.
"We have a group of players that have been in these games since March," U.S. head coach Bruce Arena stated. "Every game has been do or die for us. This is no different, but obviously as you get to the end, there's more significance to it."
According to Pulisic, the key is to get off to a good start at Orlando City Stadium.
"We want to come out flying at the beginning," he asserted. "If we can get an early goal, it would be perfect."
Arena hasn't left anything to chance. Bob Bradley, who directed the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup and was an assistant to Arena at D.C. United, has joined the coaching staff for this match.
"I can't think of a greater resource to have available," Arena concluded.