Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
It was not meant to be a demonstration of heroism for the troubled southern neighbors nor was it done as a favor, but that is essentially how many around the world will view the U.S. Men’s National Team’s late World Cup qualifying win over Panama on Tuesday night.
The U.S.’s 3-2 victory inside of a wet Estadio Rommel Fernandez was the one of the finer examples of sports serving as theater. Trailing by a goal with only seconds remaining and Panamanian players and fans preparing to burst into ecstasy, the Americans managed an unlikely comeback with two goals in stoppage time.
First, Graham Zusi powerfully placed a header into the back of the net. Then, Aron Johansson blasted a low shot past a helpless Jaime Penedo. Just like that, heartbreak for an entire nation and group of players, with tears of joy transforming into ones of great pain, frustration and sadness.
The Canaleros were literally mere moments away from keeping their dreams of playing in their first World Cup alive, but that vanished seemingly in the blink of an eye as a group of second-string Americans demonstrated the resilient attitude that the U.S. team is known so well for in an attempt to improve their own chances of playing in Brazil in 2014.
In the process of picking up the victory that punctuated a successful qualifying campaign, the U.S. helped its biggest rivals, Mexico, avoid qualification elimination. At least, for the time being.
El Tri had faced Costa Rica in San Jose in a qualifier played simultaneously to the U.S.-Panama match, but Mexico’s game ended with an all too familiar bitter feeling. The Mexicans were defeated, 2-1, and surely were thinking of the laundry list of questions they would be grilled with about their country’s failure to reach Brazil. But the U.S.’s late heroics one country over changed all that, giving Mexico a chance to once again redeem its pitiful qualifying campaign in a two-legged playoff with New Zealand in November.
Mexico may currently be as gracious as one rival can be with another (Rafa Marquez had nothing to say when asked in a postgame interview if he had any comment for the U.S.). But feelings were clearly mixed among U.S. fans about seeing their team help El Tri climb out of such a dire situation. Some wanted to see the U.S. succumb to the Panamanians’ late 2-1 lead and bizarre decision to continue to attack and leave acres of space in behind the defense. Others were rooting Jurgen Klinsmann’s side on all the way.
That unusual predicament leaves the question as to which side of the debate you were on during the dramatic and unforgettable night in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Were you rooting for Americans to pull out a victory? Or were you secretly/openly hoping to see Panama beat the U.S. so as to eliminate Mexico?
Cast your vote in the poll below and tell us why you feel that way, and if you think Mexico would have kept playing for a win if the roles had been reversed with the U.S., in the comments section.