The United States are facing a must-win contest against Panama in their bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Bruce Arena’s men suffered a damaging defeat on home soil at the hands of Costa Rica before failing to overcome Honduras in their last encounter. The Stars and Stripes are fourth in the CONCACAF qualifying group, sitting in the one and only playoff place, with two matches remaining to secure their place in Russia. Panama sit above the States in the standings ahead of their clash on October 6, with Arena knowing that a defeat could end his side’s hopes of competing in the tournament. However, the bookies have confidence in their progression as bet365 are backing the United States at +10000 to win the World Cup for the first time. USMNT are a long way off from even considering making a charge in a major competition as they desperately search for their form from the early stages of the qualifying campaign. The States were able to ease through the first stage of the qualifying, winning four of their six contests to top the group. They only dropped in a surprise defeat at the hands of Guatemala and a goalless draw against Trinidad & Tobago. Their victories were emphatic, scoring 20 goals in their four victories, including 6-0 drubbings of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines home and away. The step up in class in the next phase of qualification caught the States out of the gate as they suffered a 2-1 defeat at Mapfre Stadium. Miguel Layun put El Tri ahead, but Bobby Wood equalized, which looked like securing his side a share of the spoil, only for Rafael Marquez to snatch the three points for the visitors. Jurgen Klinsmann’s spell as manager of the USMNT was brought to an end by a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Costa Rica on the road. Arsenal forward Joel Campbell notched a second-half brace to pour on the agony, resulting in the firing of the German and the appointing of Arena for a second spell in the charge of the national side. The change in manager had an instant impact as the States bounced back with a vengeance against Honduras. They scored six goals in an emphatic victory at Avaya Stadium, with Clint Dempsey scoring a hat-trick, while Christian Pulisic, Sebastian Lletget and Michael Bradley also found the net. Panama proved their quality in a 1-1 draw with the States on home soil, battling back after Dempsey had fired Arena’s men ahead in the first half. Teenage sensation Pulisic will be a key player for years to come for the USMNT, and he took over the contest against Trinidad & Tobago, scoring a match-winning brace in the second half. The improvement under Arena continued in their toughest match of qualifying against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca. Bradley opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but Carlos Vela brought his side level in the first half. Neither side could force the issue enough to secure the three points, although the States would have been upbeat about their qualifying chances. However, Marco Urena stunned the crowd at the Red Bull Arena by scoring twice in the first half to allow Costa Rica to ease to victory. Arena’s men were unable to bounce back against Honduras, putting their qualifying hopes in jeopardy. The States are not the only side to have changed manager during qualifying. The Netherlands parted company with Danny Blind during their qualifying campaign. The Oranje struggled immensely to match the quality of France in their group and were even edged out by Sweden. They even had trouble defeating Luxembourg in one of their contests, needing a Memphis Depay brace to secure the three points. The final straw was a defeat to Bulgaria on the road, prompting Blind’s dismissal and the hiring of Dick Advocaat. A 4-0 hammering by France did not improve matters, but their win over Bulgaria on home soil has given them hope of snatching a playoff berth. The USMNT – like the Netherlands – need their key men to take the final two matches by the scruff of the neck to avoid the peril of the playoffs. Pulisic has flashed his quality, but he needs to display maturity beyond his years to ensure that his side are able to advance to Russia through the easiest route possible.