Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. Men’s National Team pulled off some late-game heroics against Panama, and they saved more than just themselves.
The U.S. scored twice in second-half stoppage time to erase a one-goal deficit and beat Panama, 3-2, in a dramatic World Cup qualifier at a rainy Estadio Rommel Fernandez on Tuesday night. Graham Zusi scored the equalizer in the 92nd minute off a cross from substitute Brad Davis and Aron Johannsson netted the winner a minute later with a near-perfect individual effort against the stunned Canaleros.
The result not only saw the Hexagonal-leading Americans match the record point total they set in CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying during the 2006 World Cup cycle, but it also eliminated a heartbroken Panamanian team and saved Mexico from astonishingly missing out on the World Cup. El Tri lost to Costa Rica, 2-1, on Tuesday night and would have been eliminated from qualifying had the U.S. not scored the two late goals.
Zusi and Johannsson’s strikes for a U.S. squad filled with reserves erased two separate leads that Panama had, including a late one that looked to assure that the hosts would move into CONCACAF’s fourth-place spot in the Hexagonal and face New Zealand in next month’s two-legged play-off.
After seeing Gabriel Torres’ 18th-minute opener canceled out by a Michael Orozco header in the 64th, the Canaleros jumped out in front again when Luis Tejada poked the ball into the back of the net in the 84th minute of a match they had to win in order to have any shot at reaching Brazil next summer.
Following a low cross from the right that U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan got a slight touch to but couldn’t steer clear of the center of the penalty area, Tejada outraced the U.S. defense to score a crucial goal that brought Panama’s World Cup hopes back to life. The strike sent the Panamanian players and their fans into a frenzy, as they knew they were on the brink of moving past Mexico in the Hexagonal table due to fourth-placed El Tri trailing Costa Rica in a qualifier played simultaneously.
Panama’s joy turned into despair in stoppage time, however.
With only seconds remaining before Panama could officially celebrate advancing to next month’s play-off, Davis hit a gorgeous cross from the left that Zusi met and did well to head home in the second minute of stoppage time. The Canaleros were punished for questionably continuing to send numbers forward against the Americans instead of dropping them back in an effort to preserve the lead.
Whatever self-belief Panama still had at that moment in the match went up in a cloud of smoke seconds later after Johannsson netted his first goal at the international level. Johannsson, who was inserted by U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in the 62nd minute, hit a hard low shot into the bottom corner that Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo could do little about.
The writing was on the wall for the heartbroken Panamanian players and some of them burst into tears and had to be consoled by the Americans following the sound of the final whistle.
The U.S., who played in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the match, finished their successful Hexagonal campaign with a 7-1-2 record. The 22 points they earned from those qualifiers match the record point total the Americans set during the 2006 World Cup qualifying cycle. The U.S. also finished atop the group back then.
Klinsmann’s side’s qualifying campaign may have ended with a successful road victory, but they are not done playing in 2013 just yet. The U.S. will partake in two road friendlies in Scotland and Austria in November to close out the year.
What do you think of the United States’ 3-2 win over Panama? Was this the wildest night of sports that you’ve experienced? Did you find yourself rooting for Panama so as to see Mexico eliminated? Which American players impressed/disappointed you?
Share your thoughts below.