PANAMA CITY — At the end of 10 critical days together, culminating with a 1-1 draw against Panama late Tuesday, the U.S. national soccer team is much closer to restoring normalcy and a little closer to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

The Americans began their time together with a new coach and without any points in the CONCACAF standings. They proceeded to take four of a possible six from two matches to escape last place and make gains on each of the other five teams, except Mexico, which is well on its way to punching an early ticket to Russia.

“I think we’re back on track,” said U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati. “But it’s going to go down to the wire for a lot of teams.”

Gulati and everyone else associated with the program would prefer the remaining six matches proceed with less stress. However, the early tumble last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann left the U.S. team needing to make up ground. After four matches each for the six teams, four points separate second place from sixth, so the race for the three automatic berths and the fourth-place slot (intercontinental playoff) will not become clear until the fall. The next U.S. qualifiers come in June: home against last-place Trinidad and Tobago, whom the Americans should beat, and at against unbeaten Mexico, whom the Americans should not beat.

Now, at least, the U.S. squad is on firmer ground.

“We made progress,” Coach Bruce Arena said. “Every game is going to be critical. Every team is in there. Mexico has a jump on everyone. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third and fourth spots.”

The Americans are among seven teams globally to compete in every World Cup since 1990. To get there this time, they will have to continue winning at home – on Friday, they routed 2014 World Cup entry Honduras, 6-0 – and get a few points on the road.

They began the road effort Tuesday. Christian Pulisic’s perseverance, sleight of foot and speed of thought led to Clint Dempsey’s one-timer from six yards in the 39th minute – his 56th international goal, one short of Landon Donovan’s U.S. career record.

Pulisic, the 18-year-old wonder, exacted revenge for Panama’s fierce challenges and hard fouls. As Pulisic’s profile rises, teams are going to increasingly target him to disrupt the U.S. attack.

No doubt, the Panamanians had made note of Pulisic’s influence – and not to mention his goal and two assists – in a spellbinding performance against Honduras on Friday.

“Sometimes it’s not always about soccer in these games,” said Pulisic. “You’ve got to really stay focused and keep the same intensity. It’s all about finding that balance.”