BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, October 16, 2013
In what was likely the most dramatic night in the history of Concacaf soccer, the United States rallied to defeat Panama and keep Mexico's qualifying campaign alive.
Entering into the game the U.S team had little on the after clinching both a spot in Brazil and first place in the Hexagonal. While the U.S was spared the drama, plenty was on the line for its opponent as Panama was within reach of securing a playoff. Meanwhile in Costa Rica, Mexico faced a possible elimination with a loss combined with a Panama win.
The game started well for Panama as the hosts took an early lead in the 18th minute when Gabriel Torres finished off a play that began with an Edgar Castillo turnover. Marcos Sanchez fed Torres into the middle of the 18 and the Colorado Rapids based forward beat Brad Guzan with a powerful low-driving shot for a 1-0 win.
At the time, Costa Rica scored over Mexico to give Panama the scores it needed.
In the second half, Panama was dealt a setback when Michael Orozco equalized for the U.S team in the 63d minute off a corner delivered by Brad Davis. Then Mexico would equalize against Costa Rica to jeopardize Panama's hopes for the playoffs again.
20 minutes later, the momentum swung again for Panama when Luis Tejada put the hosts up again when U.S keeper Brad Guzan was unable to hold onto a difficult cross and Tejada tapped it home for a 2-1 lead. Meanwhile up north, Costa Rica took a 2-1 lead over Mexico to once again give Panama the needed results and put El Tri on the brink.
Disaster however struck for Panama in injury time when Graham Zusi headed home a Brad Davis cross to equalize the game at 2-2 and once again move Panama to the brink of elimination. One minute later Aron Johannsson sealed Panama's fate with his first international goal on the last kick of the game with a 20 yard shot that snuck just inside the left post for a 3-2 win.
Mexico, who won just two games in the hexagonal, will now face off against New Zealand next month in a playoff for a spot in Brazil.
The U.S team finished with 22 points to match its best ever performance in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.