The United States stunned Panama with two late goals to help Mexico reach the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand. (RODRIGO ARANGUA/Getty Images)
Three thoughts on the U.S.'s 3-2 win over Panama in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier, which means CONCACAF’s three automatic World Cup bids go to the U.S., Costa Rica and Honduras, while Mexico goes to a playoff against New Zealand and Panama and Jamaica are eliminated:
• The U.S. is an honest team. The U.S. could have packed up shop and settled for a 2-1 loss that would have eliminated archrival Mexico and kept alive Panama’s hopes for a first World Cup. But on the wildest night in CONCACAF history, the U.S.’s Graham Zusi scored a goal in the 92nd minute to save Mexico’s chorizo despite El Tri’s 2-1 loss at Costa Rica. Aron Jóhannsson’s goal a minute later silenced the Panamanian crowd and completed a comeback that tells you everything you need to know about the U.S. mentality. Now Zusi will get free drinks forever south of the border, and maybe, just maybe, the U.S. national anthem won’t get booed in the Azteca anymore. These are the nights when soccer gives you the kind of adrenaline rush you just can’t get anywhere else as a sports fan.
• Panama and Mexico really aren’t very good. Someone has to say it. CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying format is so forgiving that a Mexico team with only 11 points from 10 Hexagonal games will still likely make it to the World Cup. With eight points (and just one win) from 10 games, the Panamanians have nobody to blame for their exit other than themselves. Panama dropped points at home to Jamaica, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. You can’t do that and expect to advance to your first World Cup. If you’re two minutes from a miraculous survival, how do you give up two goals in stoppage time at home? It’s hard to feel that badly for Panama when the Canaleros stumbled with such regularity.
• The U.S. learned a few things.
Not only does the U.S. deserve a Fair Play award for pushing for the victory, but it also merits some credit for tying its Hexagonal record with a 22-point campaign. As was the case Friday, several U.S. players getting rare starts were unable to take much advantage of the opportunity to convince Klinsmann they have to be in the A-squad’s starting XI. Mix Diskerud had some bright moments passing the ball, but could have taken a few shots himself. Edgar Castillo committed a costly turnover in his own end that led to the first Panama goal. And Michael Orozco made up for some shaky defending with a set-piece goal. Keep an eye, though, on Jóhannsson, who came on as a sub and fired a missile into the Panamanian net at the end. In the years ahead, we won’t forget this night, but that will be due less to any specific performances than to the U.S.’s refusal to quit -- even if it meant saving its greatest rival, Mexico.