SEATTLE (AP) — Jozy Altidore continued his scoring blitz with a goal in his third straight match, Eddie Johnson thrilled his home club fans with a goal in the 53rd minute, and the United States took over first place in its World Cup qualifying group with a 2-0 win over Panama on Tuesday.
Altidore scored in the 36th minute on a perfect cross from Fabian Johnson, moments after a potential penalty kick for the Americans was denied.
Eddie Johnson then gave the U.S. some cushion when he collected Geoff Cameron’s pass over the top of Panama’s defense and slid a left-footed shot past Jaime Penedo less than 10 minutes into the second half.
The U.S. holds a two-point lead over Costa Rica and Mexico in the qualifying group in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region. They will host Honduras next Tuesday night in Sandy, Utah.
The U.S. improved to 9-1-2 all-time against Panama and is 22-0-2 in home qualifiers since losing to Honduras in September 2001 at RFK Stadium. They are 36-1-7 since losing to Costa Rica in 1985 at Torrance Calif.
The match was played before 40,847, the seventh-largest crowd for a World Cup qualifier in U.S. soccer history, in exactly the atmosphere U.S. Soccer hoped it would get by playing the qualifier in Seattle.
Giving Seattle the match came with logistical obstacles – none bigger than a temporary grass field that was far from ideal – but a huge pro-American crowd, most of which stood the entire match, made up for the questionable surface.
They were rewarded with an impressive performance by the U.S. that built off its late winner in Jamaica last Friday. The Americans (3-1-1) are two points clear of Costa Rica (2-2-1) and Mexico (1-0-5) who played to a 0-0 tie in Mexico City earlier Tuesday. The U.S. also has a game in hand on Mexico.
Altidore scored for a third consecutive match after goals in wins over Germany and Jamaica. He appeared to earn a penalty kick in the 34th minute when he was chopped down in the penalty area by Roman Torres after a quick turn. Referee Roberto Garcia quickly decided he wasn’t awarding a penalty kick, although replays clearly showed Torres never got the ball.
Any uproar over the non-call was replaced moments later by deafening cheers. Michael Bradley ran free through the middle of the field and played a ball into space for Johnson to run on. Johnson didn’t take a touch, immediately sending a cross through the box.
Penedo was forced to stay in his net with Clint Dempsey making a run to the near post and his dive to deflect the cross was late. Altidore was wide open at the back post for his 16th national team goal.
The cushion the U.S. needed came early in the second half.
Cameron played a perfect pass over the top to Johnson, who timed his run to stay onside. He controlled the pass with his right foot, then deftly slid his shot past Penedo’s charge for his 11th career goal in World Cup qualifying.
Panama nearly got an equalizer in first-half stoppage time when Luis Tejada slipped free behind the U.S. defense and scored on Tim Howard, but the offside flag was up before Tejada’s shot was in the net. Panama nearly scored in second-half stoppage time, but Howard deflected Rolando Blackburn’s shot.
Cameron and Eddie Johnson were the two changes U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was forced to make to his lineup. Jermaine Jones (concussion) and Graham Zusi (suspension) were unavailable and the U.S. changed to a 4-2-3-1 alignment to bring on Cameron and Johnson.
Panama (1-1-3), which played to a 0-0 draw against Mexico last Friday at home, played without top scorer Blas Perez, who missed the game with gastroenteritis.