Dax McCarty

McCarty makes qualifying debut as USMNT inches closer to Russia

Fire midfielder Dax McCarty made his first career appearance in World Cup Qualifying action Friday night, playing the final 33 minutes of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s critical 4-0 win over Panama at Orlando City Stadium. The three points earned allowed the U.S. to leapfrog Panama in the CONCACAF standings and leave Bruce Arena's side in prime position to punch its ticket to Russia with Tuesday's match at Trinidad & Tobago. 

The qualifying debut held even more significance for McCarty, 30, who grew up in Winter Park, Fla., just a short drive from the site of Friday night's match in Orlando. It was also his 13th overall cap for the U.S. Men's National Team. 

Needing a fast start to the match to relieve the pressure, the U.S. Men's National Team received just that thanks to 19-year-old Christian Pulisic, who in the eighth minute overlapped forward Jozy Altidore and after one move found himself 1v1 with Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Pulisic finished from a tight angle to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead, and 10 minutes later set up a tap-in goal for Altidore to give the hosts a commanding 2-0 advantage.

Altidore gave the U.S. a critical third goal before halftime, converting a penalty earned by fellow forward Bobby Wood. Later, Wood capped the scoring with a stellar finish in the 63rd minute, removing all doubt from the match setting off a celebration for the raucous Orlando City Stadium crowd.

Entering the final game of the Hexagonal, the U.S. sits third on 12 points, while Panama is fourth with 10 points (pending results of tonight's ongoing matches). A point in Trinidad & Tobago Tuesday (7pmCT, beIN Sports) would likely allow the squad to clinch a spot in next summer's FIFA World Cup in Russia.