PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) – The United States cut through Panama’s defense like the canal that divides the isthmus.

Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan and Brian McBride overwhelmed Panama with first-half goals, and the Americans won Wednesday night’s qualifier 3-0 to move into commanding position to secure their fifth straight World Cup berth.

Bocanegra scored off Donovan’s corner kick in the sixth minute, Donovan got his third goal in two games in the 20th and McBride took advantage of a defensive mistake in the 40th. Kasey Keller made the lead stand up with his second straight strong performance in goal, getting his 39th career shutout in 81 games.

The Americans (4-1) are second at the midpoint of the final round of the North and Central American region with 12 points, one behind Mexico (4-0-1), which beat visiting Trinidad and Tobago 2-0. Costa Rica and Guatemala (both 1-2-1) played later Wednesday and had four points, as does Trinidad and Tobago (1-3-1). Panama (0-3-2) is virtually out of contention with two points.

The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament, and the No. 4 team meets Bahrain, Kuwait or Uzbekistan in a home-and-home playoff for another berth. The Americans have three home games left, including matchups with T&T and Panama, the two weakest teams in the group.

The fans, nearly all dressed in Panama red, honked horns, beat drums and banged inflatable Thunder Stix. They booed at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” then booed as Panamanian players walked off the field at halftime.

It was just the fifth win for the United States in 17 qualifiers in Central America.

Last year, the Americans needed Cobi Jones’ goal during a downpour in second-half injury time for a 1-1 tie at Panama, but this time the rain held off. U.S. coach Bruce Arena once again started an offense-minded lineup, using Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and McBride up front.

Donovan could have had a Panama hat trick if not for the play of goalkeeper Donaldo Gonzalez. His early corner kick went over McBride to Bocanegra, whose header went off Gonzalez’s hands, hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced in for his sixth international goal.

Keller came up with a nice save on Roberto Brown, Panama’s leading scorer in qualifying. Donovan made it 2-0 with a glancing header from 10 yards, outjumping defender Felipe Baloy to get to Steve Ralston’s cross.

Donovan’s 22nd goal in 64 international appearances moved him past Bruce Murray for sole possession of fourth on the U.S. career scoring list behind Eric Wynalda (34), McBride (28) and Joe-Max Moore (24). Donovan also has a goal or assist in 12 of 13 qualifiers for next year’s tournament.

Keller made two spectacular saves in the 26th minute, going to his right to block Brown in front of the goal, then batting away Baloy’s follow shot. Two minutes later, Brown had Keller beat but couldn’t get his head on a cross, and Jose Garces hit the post off a 25-yard shot in the 32nd minute.

On the third goal, Donovan’s free kick was headed out by a defender. Frankie Hejduk sent the ball back in, and it bounced off Baloy to McBride, who kicked it in with his left foot.

Notes: Eddie Pope got a yellow card for a hard tackle in the 10th minute and is suspended for the Aug. 17 qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago at East Hartford, Conn. … There was brief delay in the 60th minute when a fan ran onto the field. Riot police took him off.

AP-ES-06-08-05 2332EDT

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