Then his cross found Jozy Altidore's right foot like an arrow striking a bull's-eye, leading to a two-goal lead in the 19th minute.
Pulisic had a goal and an assist before being subbed off for his protection in the 56th minute, including the go-ahead goal in the eighth minute, which set the tone for the beat-down the US put on Panama.
"It's been a long road to put ourselves in this situation", Bradley said.
The U.S.is two points ahead of Panama, which will host second-place Costa Rica in its final match. "I think we have to move on to the next stage and focus on the next challenge". The Americans are nearly into the 2018 World Cup, and they have Pulisic to thank.
On Friday, the US attack came out as a motivated group, and made a Panama side that had allowed just five goals in eight previous Hex matches look old and slow. Instead, a pro-Tico crowd saw the USA get countered to death in a 2-0 loss.
With the USA leading a joint bid with Mexico and Canada to host the 2026 World Cup - and overwhelming favourites to be named hosts by Federation Internationale de Football Association next year - missing out on Russia 2018 would be devastating for the growth of the game in North America. It doesn't happen that way. "I think we're moving along well, we've advanced from sixth to third, we're positioned well with goal differential, and now we have to finish it off on Tuesday in Trinidad".
"On a night when so much was on the line - maybe everything - we played in a way where we gave no doubt", Michael Bradley said when it was over. "I hate to kind of pour too much praise on him". Such a young kid, and he gets it. I've gotten criticized a lot. "Every time I play with him, you can see he keeps improving every game".
The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russian Federation, and the fourth-place finisher meets Australia or Syria next month in a home-and-home playoff for a berth.
A draw or defeat means the best the U.S. can hope for is a two-legged play-off against either Australia or Syria.
Forecast: Watching the Gulf of Mexico!
Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center , noted that the storm's forecast is a "low-confidence prediction". Depression 16 was expected to continue on its northwest trajectory, nearing the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras by Thursday .
"Of course there was pressure", defender Matt Besler said.
"Bobby Wood and Jozy [Altidore] were a handful for their center-backs, and certainly Christian [Pulisic] was as well", said Arena.
After Wood added a fourth in the 63rd minute, the worries, the fears of the past few days, and the past few months, were gone. Panama worked the ball well from left to right before Gabriel Torres rifled a shot that the veteran netminder pushed away. After that display, the players and fans should feel great about their chances.
It mattered little though as Wood earned a penalty moments later and Altidore stepped up to convert two minutes before half-time, taking his tally to 41 global goals, third behind Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
Panama enjoyed some more time on the ball but it left them exposed at the back as the American side was presented with plenty of space, and Altidore wasted the chance to net his second after shooting straight at Penedo.
After taking a deft right-footed feed from Altidore, Pulisic split two defenders on his way into the penalty area, rounded keeper Jaime Penedo at the edge of the six-yard box and pushed a right-footed shot in from a hard angle for his fifth goal of the year.
As Pulisic continued his star turn, he also got the CONCACAF star treatment. The second leg will be played on October 10.
Wood drew the penalty kick after he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. Instead of blasting the attempt into a corner, Altidore used a cheeky chip down the middle for his 41st career goal.
You could feel the US attack feeding off of Pulisic's confidence, as every member of the group contributed, making Panama pay for giving the USA attack too much room to operate. "We've got to enjoy this, use it for confidence and spirit and make sure that come Tuesday we're ready to finish the job". And all of the Draw fell on the last 4 duel rivals, including in the first round of selection 1: 1.