Fringe players like Mix Diskerud got their chance to start vs. Panama in the U.S.'s final World Cup qualifier. (RODRIGO ARANGUA/Getty Images)
A wild night of soccer around the CONCACAF region came to a rip-roaring end on Tuesday night, as Mexico qualified for the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand despite losing 2-1 to Costa Rica. That was thanks to a last-minute goal by Graham Zusi, who leveled the scores for the United States at Panama before Aron Johansson netted the winner in stoppage time.
And so the Hex finishes with the U.S. on top at 7-2-1, Costa Rica in second at 5-2-3 and Honduras in third at 4-3-3. They'll all go to the World Cup next summer. Fourth place Mexico will have to negotiate a home-and-home playoff with New Zealand to get to Brazil, and that's no sure thing. Mexico will host the first leg on Nov. 13 or 14 and then fly to Wellington for the decider on Nov. 20.
Once again, your final scores:
USA 3, PANAMA 2
MEXICO 1, COSTA RICA 2
HONDURAS 2, JAMAICA 2
Re-live all of the night's crazy, tense, and perhaps gut-wrenching events in our live blog after the jump.
BRIAN STRAUS | 11:28 PM
An absolutely remarkable turn of events in Panama ends a dream Hex for the U.S. Zusi and Johannsson score late (it’s Johannsson’s first international goal) and the Americans escape with a 3-2 win that knocks Panama out of the World Cup.
Panama’s inability to close this out will live forever in the hearts of these players and fans. Absolutely gut-wrenching. And for as long as soccer is played, U.S. fans can remind their Mexican counterparts that they advanced only because of those late goals. Without them, after losing to Costa Rica, Mexico was done.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 11:27 PM
Honduras' 2-2 draw with jamaica is also final, meaning Los Catrachos have qualified directly for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 11:26 PM
It's a final in San José! Mexico loses 2-1 to Costa Rica, but they will have no idea how much drama has unfolded around the region as they struggled. Two late U.S. goals saved them from being excluded from the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
BRIAN STRAUS | 11:21 PM
GOAL USA! And if you doubted the Americans’ intentions, don’t. Brad Davis makes the difference. He set up both goals tonight. This time, well into stoppage time, Davis hits a perfect cross from the left that bends into the path of Zusi’s run. His header is perfect.
The US has handed Mexico a World Cup lifeline and broken hearts in Panama.
AND ANOTHER US GOAL!
Jaohannsson buries a long-range shot as Panama loosens up in defense. He has plenty of time, space, and he rips a shot from the arc inside the left post.
U.S. 3, Panama 2. Mexico will go to New Zealand.
And the game is over!
BRIAN STRAUS | 11:19 PM
Panama and Mexico each will finish with 11 points if results hold. Mexico’s goal difference will be -2 and Panama’s will be -2. The next tiebreaker is goals scored, and Panama’s 10 will trump Mexico’s seven.
In the 90th minute, Castillo nearly found Boyd as he burly forward raced toward the goalkeeper, but Peneido bravely grabbed it. That was a close call.
There will be three minutes of stoppage time in Panama City.
BRIAN STRAUS | 11:14 PM
83 – PANAMA GOAL!! The Rommel Fernandez erupts. Panama was desperate, but played smart.
Substitute winger Roberto Chen collected the ball on the right and hit a cross past Castillo. Guzan dove and parried the ball away, but Luis Tejada was there, storming in, to bounce the ball into the net.
Incredible scenes. Panama is a few minutes from New Zealand, and Mexico is a few minutes from infamy. You thought Mexico hated the U.S. before?
BRIAN STRAUS | 11:06
76 – Terrence Boyd is coming on for Jozy Altidore. It’ll be the young Rapid Vienna forward’s first appearance of the Hex.
Right now, Orozco’s goal is keeping Mexico alive.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 11:06
Bolanos hits the post for Costa Rica! After playing a nice one-two at the top of the box, Bolanos tried to beat the onrushing Guillermo Ochoa with a slow flick, and the ball rolled agonizingly close to a dagger goal for the Mexicans, bouncing off the post and out of play.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 11:00
In substitution-related news, Wilson Palacios has come on for Honduras in place of Andy Najar. For Mexico, Gio dos Santos and Isaac Brizuela join in to try and get a goal for El Tri.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:58
67 - The game is opening up, and Panama has a golden opportunity. Torres shoots from point blank and Guzan gets his left arm up to parry the shot. Torres had a teammate square to the right, but chose not to pass.Meanwhile, Costa Rica is up on Mexico, 2-1. Panama can eliminate Mexico with a goal in the next 22 minutes.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:57
64 – GOAL USA! Michael Orozco finds the net off a well-hit (is there any other kind?) Brad Davis corner kick. Sacha Kljestan took a beating in the penalty area and Orozco had room at the top of the six-yard box.It’s Orozco’s second goal for the U.S. this year. He also scored in the 6-1 demolition of Belize in the Gold Cup. And of course, he’s the man who scored the only goal in that famous friendly win at the Estadio Azteca last year.In the 66th, Panama has a penaltly claim after Bedoya and Quintero collide in the box. No call.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:55
64 - GOAL COSTA RICA. Alvaro Saborio puts Mexico on red alert with a headed goal just a few minutes after coming on as a substitute! That's exactly the kind of impact Costa Rica would have hoped for. This goal would be fantastic news for Panama...except that Michael Orozco scored at almost the exact same time for the United States!
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:53 PM
61 - Davis bounces a shot wide right as Diskerud exits for forward Aron Johannsson. This will look more like a 4-4-2 for the last half hour.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:51 PM
JAMAICA GOAL - Rodolph Austin buries a penalty to even the scores at 2-2.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:50 PM
60 - Chicharito's subpar night comes to a close, as Mexico coach Vucetich replaces him with bicycle kick hero Raul Jimenez. Does Jimenez have another one of THOSE up his sleeve?
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:48 PM
It looks like Bedoya has shifted back to right back. Davis will play midfield. The U.S. speed certainly hasn't improved, but Davis has very good vision and consistent delivery.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:47 PM
50 - Costa Rica subs out Bryan Ruiz, which will be a relief for Mexico. The Fulham forward has been the Ticos' most consistently dangerous attacker in the first half, causing the backline problems with his clever play and work rate. His replacement is no slouch, though - Alvaro Saborio has scored tons of goals for Real Salt Lake in MLS. Can he snatch one against Mexico tonight?
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:45 PM
54 – Castillo makes up for a rough first half with a goal-line clearance. A quick Panamanian counter-attack left the U.S. scrambling, and Quintero fed Pérez for the shot. It beat Guzan, but Castillo was standing right behind the goalkeeper and cleared it away.
A minute later, Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis comes in for Evans. Davis at right back? We’re not sure what’s going on here.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:42 PM
51 – Some good hold-up play by Altidore and a nice chip by Kljestan frees up Bedoya deep on the left wing. Finally – some time and space for a U.S. player in a dangerous spot on the flank. And Bedoya shanked his cross behind the goal.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:42 PM
In Honduras-Jamaica, it looks like they're crediting Jamaica's goal as an own goal to Honduran midfielder Jorge Claros.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:40 PM
Mexico-Costa Rica and Honduras-Jamaica have both kicked off their second halves. No changes for either side in either game.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:38 PM
Panama captain Felipe Baloy is impressive. The defender has been impenetrable tonight and picked Altidore clean in the 48th. Baloy plays his club ball for Santos Laguna, the former team of U.S. forward Herculez Gomez.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:35 PM
The U.S. and Panama have kicked off the second half. No changes to either side.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:33 PM
If you missed it earlier, Chile and Ecuador both qualified for the World Cup out of South America following Chile's 2-1 win. They'll join Argentina and Colombia in Brazil. Uruguay defeated Argentina, 3-2, in a wild game in Montevideo but will have to handle Jordan in a two-game playoff next month before booking their World Cup place.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:24 PM
HALFTIME - Panama takes a 1-0 lead into the break. As the U.S. walked off the field, Panama stayed out near the center circle and huddled up. Interesting image, and again, testament to how big this game is for them.
The U.S. has looked good in spots. They tightened things up in back as the half wore on, and Beckerman looked good. Everything in front has been very dynamic, with Zusi, Bedoya and Diskerud switching positions and trying to attack at different angles. It’s still mostly up the middle for the U.S., however, and the lack of a genuine wide threat (Zusi and Bedoya both pinch in) is allowing the Panamanians to collapse and cut things off.
It would be easy to pin U.S. issues on a lack of chemistry and familiarity. Can’t find a better reason at the moment. But remember, this team habitually figures things out and gets stronger as games go on. Panama has a lot of work to do in the second half.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:19 PM
HALFTIMES - Mexico and Costa Rica head to the locker rooms with the scores tied at 1-1. Anyone who expected an already-qualified Costa Rica to lay down for this game, think again. The Ticos are giving Mexico all they can handle, and the result has been a thrilling game in which both teams have had good chances to score. Bryan Ruiz opened the scoring and put all of CONCACAF on red alert with a well-taken goal in the 25th minute, but Oribe Peralta leveled the scores four minutes later. If that score holds, Mexico would advance to the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.
Honduras and Jamaica area also at half. Carlo Costly scored in the opening minute for Honduras but Jermaine Beckford responded just two minutes later. In the 31st minute, a magnificent freekick from Maynor Figueroa put Honduras in front again. If that score holds, Honduras will head to their second straight World Cup.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:15 PM
39 – The U.S. has a decent chance as Altidore lays the ball off to a teammate and it eventually finds Bedoya, who takes a couple of touches and rips a shot that Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo (L.A. Galaxy) is able to bat aside.
Again, there’s been space for both teams. Panama has just been smarter about using it, for the most part.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:12 PM
42 - Near miss for Mexico! Chicharito's horrid luck in front of goal this game continues - an in-ch perfect cross found his near post run, but his first-time attempt at a finish went wide of that near post and hit the side netting. A decidedly bad finish from a player that normally feasts on that kind of chance. Still knotted at 1-1 in San José.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:09 PM
31 - GOAL HONDURAS. Maynor Figueroa puts my previous update to shame mere seconds after I post it, rifling a freekick just over (perhaps deflecting off of?) the Jamaica wall and past goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr. It's 2-1 to Honduras in Kingston, a result that would put Los Catrachos into the World Cup if it holds.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 10:05 PM
After a crazy opening five minutes in which the teams traded goals, Jamaica-Honduras has calmed down considerably and is still tied at 1-1. It's become a midfield battle, with both teams struggling to create clear-cut scoring chances.
BRIAN STRAUS | 10:02 PM
We’re nearing the half-hour mark, and the atmosphere in Panama is electric as Costa Rica scores against Mexico in San José. There’s plenty of time to go, but right now the impossible seems possible for Los Canaleros.
The U.S. still hasn’t found its footing, and there’s an energy to Panama’s game that the Americans are struggling to match. Altidore looks active and has had a couple of looks, but there’s too much space right now in the U.S. midfield and back four and Panama has the chemistry to find those seams.
...Until news filters through that Oribe Peralta has leveled the score for Mexico. Panama needs Costa Rica to win to have a shot.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 9:59 PM
29 - MEXICO GOAL. And just like that, El Tri grabs a goal back. Oribe Peralta provided the finishing touch, though once again it was Chicharito Hernandez who broke through on goal. Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas came way off his line to bat the ball off of Hernandez's feet, but Peralta was right behind him to fire in the rebound, which deflected off the crossbar, on the line, and eventually into the back of the net. By the narrowest of margins, Mexico is back in this.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 9:55 PM
25 - COSTA RICA GOAL. Wow, Costa Rica just gave the Hex a shock. Bryan Ruiz scores for the Ticos, with a really well-played piece of inventive soccer inside the Mexico box. The Fulham striker popped the ball over a defender with a deft header, moved unchallenged into space, and finished strongly. As it stands now, Mexico is out of the World Cup.
BRIAN STRAUS | 9:55 PM
18 – PANAMA GOAL. There’s a lot of space to exploit out there, and Panama is first to do so.
Quintero started the play with a smart, incisive pass into Sánchez. He drew two defenders to him and slipped it quickly to Gabriel Torres, who plays for the Colorado Rapids. He buried his shot from the top of the penalty area inside the left post.
Seconds later, FC Dallas marksman Blas Pérez tested Guzan from distance and forced a save.
This is Panama’s World Cup final, and this is a U.S. lineup playing together for the first time. It shows right now.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 9:50 PM
17 - Mexico has a goal called back! In a remarkably sloppy sequence, Chicharito Hernandez gets through on goal, and somehow manages to scuff his shot directly into the Costa Rican 'keeper, who then allows the ball to slip under him and roll slowly over the goal line as he flails for it on the ground. Mexico begins celebrating, then the goal is called back for offside. Really amazing series of events.
BRIAN STRAUS| 9:46 PM
12 – Panama has another flurry in the U.S. penalty area, and Sánchez takes a shot from a tight angle but sees his bid cleared by Orozco.
BRIAN STRAUS| 9:44 PM
The skies over the Rommel Fernandez in Panama opened up at kick off, but that hasn’t slowed either the hosts or the U.S. down in the early moments. Both teams are pushing the play, and there’s been some good back-and-forth action as we approach the 10-minute mark.
Diskerud looks active – less tentative than he did at the start of the Jamaica game – and Kljestan and Evans already have gotten involved.
In the 10th minute, a looping pass from Panama’s Alberto Quintero beat the U.S. defense and reached Marcos Sánchez, but the midfielder couldn’t settle the ball in time to put a shot on Guzan. The goalie collected it.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 9:40 PM
Well, that started quickly! Honduras scored in the first minute via Carlo Costly, but Jamaica came right back to tie it up with a goal from Jermaine Beckford. A Honduras win would put Los Catrachos in to the World Cup...but there is certainly plenty of time to get that win.
ALEXANDER ABNOS | 9:31 PM
The games have kicked off!
BRIAN STRAUS | 9:30 PM
Some U.S.-Panama Trivia
-- This is the third meeting between the teams this year. The Americans won their home qualifier, 2-0, on June 11 in Seattle with goals by Altidore and Eddie Johnson. The following month, the U.S. needed a 69th-minute goal from Brek Shea to claim the Gold Cup title with a 1-0 win over Panama in the final.
-- The U.S. is 15-3-2 this year. It won 15 games in 2005 and 2009 – also years before a World Cup – but has never won 16. It could set the record tonight. The U.S. is 26-9-6 under Klinsmann.
-- The U.S. is wearing all white (the centennial jerseys) and Panama is in all red. We much prefer a little color in the US uniform – would be nice to see the navy blue shorts.
-- If Cameron plays tonight, he’ll tie Dempsey with the most qualifying appearances in the current cycle at 14. All of Dempsey’s were starts.
-- Guzan has five shutouts in his seven career qualifiers and is 4-1-2 in those games.
BRIAN STRAUS | 9:24 P.M.
The U.S. will take the field against Panama in what appears to be a 4-2-3-1 formation, which Klinsmann has utilized frequently in recent months.
Here’s the U.S. lineup.
GK: Brad Guzan
Ds: Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco, Edgar Castillo
MFs: Kyle Beckerman, Sacha Kljestan, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Graham Zusi
F: Jozy Altidore (captain)
Klinsmann said he wanted to see Guzan and Goodson in the first 11, but the insertion of Orozco is a surprise. His only starts in the middle in 2013 came at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and he struggled at right back in the 3-1 qualifying loss to Costa Rica last month. Geoff Cameron likely will be available on the bench.
Tuesday is huge for Kljestan, who’s on the World Cup bubble. He’s being given a central role, like he plays at Anderlecht, and will have some opportunity to move around with Beckerman behind him. This surely is the opportunity Kljestan wanted, and it could be his final exam.
Diskerud struggled to find his rhythm during Friday’s 2-0 win over Jamaica, but fared far better once Zusi entered in the second half. Those two will look to establish that chemistry from the beginning, while ensuring that Altidore isn’t isolated up front.
Speaking to ESPN this week, Klinsmann made it clear that World Cup roster spots still are up for grabs, and that he’ll be relying on more than just his stars to negotiate next summer’s tournament.
"We have many players who have to prove to themselves they can go to the global stage so we have a lot of question marks,” he said.
"Some of the players who are not in the first 11 but are guys you would rank between 18 and 23 may ultimately be the driver of the whole thing. They will be the ones who push those in the spine and give them a hit on the shoulders. We need 23 that are on the same page and that is not necessarily the best 23 players."
That leaves plenty of opportunity for a host of players, including the likes of Beckerman, Bedoya, Kljestan and Goodson. Klinsmann has demonstrated a willingness to give second chances and be proved wrong. But those opportunities are dwindling. There is plenty to play for in Panama.
BRIAN STRAUS| PREGAME
- Panama hosts the U.S. at the Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City (BeIn Sport / BeIn Sport Play)
- Costa Rica hosts Mexico at the Estadio Nacional in San José (BeIn Sport en Español / BeIn Sport Play)
- Jamaica hosts Honduras at Independence Park in Kingston (Telemundo)
What’s at Stake
USA (6-2-1) – With a spot in Brazil and first place in the Hex secured, tonight will be about individual players proving a point to coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The U.S. has no chance at a World Cup seed.
Costa Rica (4-2-3) -- The Ticos are going to the World Cup, but might be inspired by the prospect of making life more difficult for Mexico.
Honduras (4-3-2) -- With a win or tie vs. Jamaica, Los Catrachos will clinch CONCACAF’s third automatic berth in the World Cup.
Mexico (2-2-5) -- El Tri need at least a point to ensure a spot in next month’s home-and-home playoff with New Zealand. With a Meixco win in and a Honduras defeat, third place -- and qualification -- would be determined by goal differential.
Panama (1-3-5) -- If Panama wins and Mexico loses, Los Canaleros could sneak into fourth on goal difference.