Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defence with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.
Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.
The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.
Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.
The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.
- U.S. 4-0 Panama
- Mexico 3-1 Trinidad and Tobago
Spain leave Italy behind
Spain easily defeated Albania 3-0 to secure a World Cup berth on Friday and outspoken defender Gerard Pique received a mixed reaction from home fans every time he touched the ball.
Rodrigo, Isco, and Thiago Alcantara scored first-half goals to give Spain an insurmountable five-point lead over Italy with one round to go in Group G of European qualifying.
Italy's chances of winning the group ended with in a 1-1 draw against Macedonia in Turin, a result that secured second place for the Italians.
Even though Italy remains in contention for next year's World Cup it was still booed off the pitch for its lackluster performance.
Israel won at Liechtenstein 1-0 in the other group match. Spain will be making its 11th consecutive World Cup appearance.
Serbia shocked by Austria
Serbia failed to clinch a World Cup berth in Vienna, giving fresh hope to Wales and Ireland.
Serbia only had to beat already-eliminated Austria. It squandered the opening goal, came back to draw 2-2 then conceded a long-range goal in the 89th minute for Austria to win 3-2.
The Serbs can still secure top spot in Group D and the automatic qualifying berth that comes with it on Monday, with a home win against Georgia.
Wales was only a point behind in the standings after beating Georgia 1-0 away without Gareth Bale, while Ireland were only a point behind Wales after defeating Moldova 2-0 in Dublin.
Wales and Ireland meet on Monday.
Thunder-clap is back
Iceland was at the top of the Group I, after its stunning 3-0 win at Turkey.
With Finland surprisingly holding Croatia to 1-1 away, and Ukraine taking three points from Kosovo after a 2-0 away win, the tightest group in European qualifying will have to be decided on Monday in the last round of matches.
Iceland leads with 19 points, and Croatia and Ukraine are two points behind. Turkey is out of contention with 14 as well as Finland with 8.
Iceland is a clear favourite when it hosts last-placed Kosovo in its last qualifier, while Croatia has to travel to Ukraine.
- Georgia 0-1 Wales
- Republic of Ireland 2-0 Moldova
- Austria 3-2 Serbia
- Spain 3-0 Albania
- Italy 1-1 FYR Macedonia
- Liechtenstein 0-1 Israel
- Turkey 0-1 Iceland
- Croatia 1-1 Finland
- Kosovo 0-2 Ukraine
- Mali 0-0 Ivory Coast