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 last night's qualifier in Panama City, 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 added another in the 40th. Kasey Keller made the lead stand up, 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, 1 behind Mexico (4-0-1), which beat visiting Trinidad and Tobago, 2-0.
Costa Rica and Guatemala (both 1-2-1) played later last night and had 4 points, as does Trinidad and Tobago (1-3-1). Panama (0-3-2) is virtually out of contention.
Elsewhere, Argentina secured a Cup berth by beating defending champion Brazil, 3-1, joining Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea as the first nations to qualify, along with host Germany, an automatic qualifier in the 32-nation field.
Japan beat North Korea, 2-0, in Bangkok; Iran edged visiting Bahrain, 1-0, in Tehran; Saudi Arabia blanked Uzbekistan, 3-0, at Riyadh, and South Korea advanced with a 4-0 victory at Kuwait.
Former Revolution coach Fernando Clavijo, who played 61 games for the US national team, was named to the National Soccer Hall of Fame yesterday. Also selected were Tom ''Whitey" Fleming, who starred for Fore River club in Quincy and won American Soccer League championships with Philadelphia FC in 1921 and J&P Coats of Pawtucket in 1923; Alex McNab, who won six successive US Open Cup titles from 1930-35 with four teams; Johnny Nelson, who scored 233 goals in 250 games, second on the all-time ASL list; Werner Nilsen, who played for the US in 1934 World Cup and won five US Open Cups; and Fabbri Salcedo, a three-time ASL scoring leader.
Frank Dell'Apa of the Globe staff contributed.