Heartbreak barely begins to describe the emotions of Panama’s soccer team and their fans as their World Cup Dream was so cruelly snatched from them in stoppage time by Graham Zusi and the United States Tuesday night in Panama City, in a 3-2 U.S. win.
On a wet and wild night at Estadio Rommel Fernandez the drama was almost unbearable as the scoreboard watching fans lived and died with not only Panama’s goals, but those in the match between Costa Rica and Mexico in Costa Rica, a match that Panama needed Mexico to lose.
With an emotional crowd urging them on, Panama dominated the opening 35 minutes, getting a great goal from the Colorado Rapids Gabriel Torres in the 18th minute. Torres finished a good move for the home team with a fine shot in front of a disjointed U.S. defense.
The U.S. team featured seven new players from Friday night’s win versus Jamaica, with injuries and coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decisions responsible for the changes. In a poor first half for the Hex topping Americans, Klinsmann’s new look side resembled a group of strangers in need of introductions, particularly in the key central defense and midfield positions.
Captain for the night Jozy Altidore looked sharp and hungry from the start on this rainy night, but his teammates weren’t up to his standard for the majority of the first half.
Players like Sacha Kljestan, Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Orozco, Edgar Castillo and Mix Diskerud were handed a chance to “make their case,” as Jurgen Klinsmann has put it, but in the opening 45 minutes it simply wasn’t happening.
Klinsmann sent that same group out after the break, giving his players some more time to make that World Cup case. Whatever it was that coach Klinsmann said during his halftime talk, it seemed to work, as the U.S. picked up their game after the break.
Kljestan, Beckerman and Castillo were some of the players who lifted their play, but the U.S. nearly conceded a second goal when Brad Evans, one of the better Americans in the first half, was badly beaten in the 54th minute on a Panama counter attack.
Evans was removed in the 62nd Minute for Brad Davis, with Bedoya dropping back to fullback. An inexperienced defender, Bedoya nearly cost the U.S. later, but not before Michael Orozco equalized off of a U.S. corner.
Costa Rica had taken the lead over Mexico at virtually the same moment as Orozco scored, the Panamanians emotions swinging as wildly as the scorelines.
Klinsmann’s Bedoya at fullback experiment looked like it might send Panama into the World Cup playoff against New Zealand, when Bedoya barrelled into his mark for what looked like a sure penalty, but Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell waved play on.
Panama responded with a great run into the box by their outstanding defender Felipe Baloy, who lost control after a dangerous run. Jurgen Klinsmann made his final sub in the 78th minute, bringing Terrence Boyd on for Altidore, who played well on the night. Aron Johannsson had replaced Mix Diskerud in the 62nd minute, ending a disappointing match for the attacking midfielder.
Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes played his last card in the 77th minute, turning to veteran striker Luis Tejada. Tejada paid dividends with an 86th minute goal on a ball that Guzan might have cleared.
With Costa Rica leading Mexico, Panama’s fans were reveling in the coming series against New Zealand, when in a blink it was taken away. Castillo began the key U.S. sequence, stealing the ball in the U.S. box and launching an upfield run. Castillo fed Davis, who crossed deftly to the onrushing Zusi, who hammered home a powerful header in stoppage time.
With Panama still reeling from that blow, Johannsson poured salt into the open wound finishing nicely from Boyd, and finishing a heartbreaking night for Panama.
Zusi’s heroics sent Mexico to the World Cup playoff despite El Tri’s 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, while Honduras did enough to clinch Concacaf’s third automatic bid with a 2-2 tie at Jamaica.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 3 3
PAN 1 1 2
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 (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