SEATTLE -- Jozy Altidore continued his scoring run, and Eddie Johnson earned a moment to remember by scoring a goal before his raucous home crowd that matched the hype that came with playing a World Cup qualifier in Seattle.

It became a perfect night for the United States to collect three points and vault into first place in its World Cup qualifying group.

Altidore scored in the first half, his third consecutive match with a goal, Johnson thrilled his home club fans with a score in the 53rd minute, and the United States defeated Panama 2-0 on Tuesday.

"Right now we're having fun. But most importantly we're on the same page and have one common goal, which is qualifying for the World Cup," Johnson said. "We've got one more game to put ourselves in a good position to make that happen."

Altidore scored in the 36th minute on a perfect cross from Fabian Johnson, moments after a potential penalty kick for the Americans was denied.

Eddie Johnson then gave the United States a cushion when he collected Geoff Cameron's pass over the top of Panama's defense and slid a left-footed shot past Jaime Penedo less than 10 minutes into the second half.

"Obviously very pleased with our performance," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "Throughout the entire game, we were in control of every area on the field. The guys did their job."

The United States (3-1-1) holds a two-point lead over Costa Rica (2-2-1) and Mexico (1-0-5) in the qualifying group in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

The match Tuesday was played before 40,847 fans, the seventh-largest crowd for a World Cup qualifier in U.S. soccer history, in exactly the atmosphere U.S. Soccer hoped it would get by playing the qualifier in Seattle.

"Best crowd I've played in in the United States, without a doubt," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "People don't know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this."

Altidore scored for a third consecutive match after goals in wins over Germany and Jamaica. Bradley ran free through the middle of the field and played a ball into space for Johnson to run on. Johnson didn't take a touch, immediately sending a cross through the box.

Penedo was forced to stay in his net with Clint Dempsey making a run to the near post, and his dive to deflect the cross was late. Altidore was wide open at the back post for his 16th national team goal.

The cushion the United States needed came early in the second half. Cameron played a perfect pass over the top to Johnson, who timed his run to stay onside. He controlled the pass with his right foot, then deftly slid his shot past Penedo's charge for his 11th career goal in World Cup qualifying.