With all due respect to the Disney marketing department, the most magical place on the planet was a few miles northeast of Orlando’s theme parks on Sunday night.
That’s how Exploria Stadium must have felt to the US and their exuberant fans, at least, as a Christian Pulisic hat-trick helped deliver a 5-1 thrashing that hoisted Gregg Berhalter’s men to the brink of Qatar 2022. A tricky and occasionally torturous qualifying campaign is now all but certain to enjoy a happy ending.
Of course, the US know from agonising experience that weird things can happen on the final night of Concacaf qualifying, after an easy win over Panama at the home of Orlando City. But in all probability this will not be a case of history repeating. Unlike in 2017, the US can afford a loss in their final fixture, away to Costa Rica on Wednesday. In fact, they can afford a big loss. Even a five-goal defeat would not be fatal given the gap in goal difference between them and Costa Rica in fourth.
The result eliminated fifth-placed Panama from contention, meaning that the US can finish no lower than fourth, the rank that entails an intercontinental playoff in Qatar in June, probably against New Zealand.