Just when Ruben Tejada’s 83rd minute goal appeared to have sent Panama into a World Cup Qualifying playoff against New Zealand, two stoppage time goals from the United States brought the celebrations in Panama City to a screeching halt. In Mexico, the celebrations were beginning for, despite losing their final qualifier in Costa Rica and finishing the Hex with only 11 points (as compared to the US’ 22), El Tri will now have a final chance to salvage their disastrous World Cup campaign in the two-game playoff against the champions of Oceania.
Graham Zusi did the damage for the US two minutes into added time, powering home a cross from Brad Davis, before Aron Johansson put the final nail in Panama’s World Cup coffin, smashing past Jaime Penedo from 20 yards with the final seconds of the game. Down twice and with little to play for other than individual places on the plane to Brazil, a reserve US side never looked fully engaged, yet they rose to the occasion at the final moment.
After stringing together some early possession, the US failed to provide stand-in captain Jozy Altidore with the service he needed to thrive. Instead, the visitors struggled to complete the final probing pass and Panama was content to sit back, waiting to spring their mercurial wingers, Alberto Quintero and Marcos Sanchez. The pair gave US fullbacks Brad Evans and Edgar Castillo all they could handle going forward. In the 18th minute, it was Sanchez who capitalized on a sloppy turnover from Castillo, driving forward before squaring for Gabriel Torres. Striking the ball first time, Torres left Brad Guzan with little chance and sent the hosts into a precious 1-0 advantage.
Both sides traded jabs, but the US forced their way into the ascendancy early in the second half. The addition of Brad Davis to provide service and Johansson to offer creativity and finishing had Panama on the back foot. And it was Davis’ corner that finally led to the breakthrough. Crashing into the box in the 64th minute, former Philadelphia Union defender Michael Orozco Fiscal managed enough of a touch to push the ball beyond Jaime Penedo, taking the air out of Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Panama nearly pulled a goal back, but Torres was denied his brace by the quick left hand of Guzan, after he had been played in alone on the keeper. At the other end, Johansson nearly curled his effort inside of Penedo’s far post, but the Panamanian keeper would have been relieved to see the bending effort swing wide.
With the game wide open, subsitute Roberto Chen managed to race in behind the US defense in the 83rd minute. Chen’s low, driven cross eluded Torres at the near post, but Guzan could only parry the ball into the path of another substitute, Tejada, who buried the rebound, sending the crowd, who was well aware of Mexico’s scoreline, into delirium.
But, it would not last.
Unphased by the go-ahead goal and eager to seek out an equalizer, the US threw numbers forward against a Panamanian side that failed to drop adequate bodies to defend their lead. When Davis was played up the left flank with room to cross, alarms bells were suddenly ringing. With substitute Terrence Boyd providing the decoy run, Zusi arrived late into the box, finding space to rise and drive home the equalizer.
Knowing a draw did nothing for their chances, Panama pushed hopefully forward, but the US dealt well with the stretched field. After finding himself released into space in the final minute of stoppage time, Boyd smartly looked up for Johansson. Taking the square ball, Johansson cut onto his preferred right foot, burying the ball beyond the helpless Penedo, completing a stunning comeback and fittingly wrapping up an impressive qualifying campaign for the United States.
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Panama
Date: Oct. 15, 2013
Competition: 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying – Final Round
Venue: Estadio Rommel Fernandez; Panama City, Panama
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. CT
Weather: 81 degrees, rain
PAN – Gabriel Torres (Marcos Sánchez) 18th minute
USA – Michael Orozco (Brad Davis) 64
PAN – Luis Tejada 83
USA – Graham Zusi (Brad Davis) 90+2
USA – Aron Johannsson (Terrence Boyd) 90+3
USA: 12-Brad Guzan; 6-Brad Evans (15-Brad Davis, 56), 21-Clarence Goodson, 3-Michael Orozco, 2-Edgar Castillo; 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 23-Kyle Beckerman, 16-Sacha Kljestan, 8-Mix Diskerud (9-Aron Johannsson, 62), 19-Graham Zusi; 17-Jozy Altidore (capt.) (14-Terrence Boyd, 76)
Subs Not Used: 1-Sean Johnson, 22-Nick Rimando, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 20-Geoff Cameron
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
PAN: 1-Jaime Penedo, 4-Carlos Rodriguez (22-Jairo Jimenez, 72), 5-Roman Torres, 23-Felipe Baloy (capt.), 17-Luis Henriquez, 6-Gabriel Gomez (2-Roberto Chen, 72), 21-Amilcar Henriquez, 8-Marcos Sanchez (18-Luis Tejada, 78), 19-Alberto Quintero, 7-Blas Perez, 9-Gabriel Torres
Subs Not Used: 3-Harold Cummings, 10-Eybir Bonaga, 11-Yairo Glaize, 12-Luis Mejia, 13-Richard Dixon, 14-Juan Perez, 15-Alex Rodriguez, 16-Rolando Blackburn, 20-Anibal Godoy
Head Coach: Julio Dely Valdes
Stats Summary: USA / PAN
Shots: 12 / 8
Shots on Goal: 7 / 5
Saves: 3 / 4
Corner Kicks: 3 / 2
Fouls: 7 / 8
Offside: 4 / 2
PAN – Luis Tejada (caution) 84th minute
Referee: Courtney Campbell (JAM)
Assistant Referee 1: Garnet Page (JAM)
Assistant Referee 2: Kedlee Powell (JAM)
Fourth Official: Jeffrey Solis (CRC)