By Ridge Mahoney
Without most of its regulars, the USA nevertheless ground out a stunning 3-2 victory in Panama City to finish off the Hexagonal in dramatic fashion. Substitute Brad Davis, with two assists, led a remarkable comeback. His corner kick yielded the first U.S. goal and in the second minute of stoppage time, he crossed a ball that Graham Zusiheaded home to tie the match again at 2-2 and kill the hopes of an entire nation. The other two subs teamed up a minute later to ice an amazing win. Terrence Boyd got the assist on Aron Johansson’s first U.S. goal.
5 Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/ENG) 23/0.Failed to claim a couple of crosses that forced his teammates to bail him out and could have done better than parry Roberto Chen’s cross into the path of Luis Tejada to score the second Panamanian goal. He stymied Panama few times, including a classy kick-save that thwarted Alberto Quintero and a punched repulsion of a Gabriel Torres effort.
4 Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders) 14/1. Panama’s fast, tricky wide players gave him a tough time. Alberto Quintero buzzed past him to set up a clean chance that Guzan saved and Carlos Rodriguez burned him a couple of times. He played a few good balls along the ground up the flanks and through the central channel that gave the U.S. possession in the attacking third, and delivered one good cross that was cleared for a corner.
5 Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes) 44/5.He handled the treacherous footing and potent attackers reasonably well but could have been sharper in closing down situations near the edge of the penalty area. His aerial work was typically strong and while the back line benefited from at least one blown offside call he did his best to marshal the troops.
4 Michael Orozco (Puebla/MEX) 11/2.The slick surface and Panama’s flair bamboozled him several times. He came up with a vital clearance in the first half when Guzan deflected a cross but he also failed to intervene when Gabriel Torres scored the first goal. He struggled to contain Panama in the final minutes when the U.S. sent waves of players forward. He attacked Brad Davis’ corner to either score or force an own goal to tie the game, 1-1.
4 Edgar Castillo (Tijuana/MEX) 15/0.After a nightmare first half, typified when Marcos Sanchez glided past him to set up the first goal following one of his giveaways, he pushed forward to liven up the attack. He knifed through the middle to force a foul and chipped a nice ball that Boyd failed to put on frame. Yet the defensive miscues persisted and he was yards late when Roberto Chen floated down his side to cross the ball that produced the second Panama goal.
6 Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) 33/1.Pressed forward and dropped into good spots to connect passes and helped the U.S. gain a foothold in midfield following a rough first half. He might have reacted quicker to stop Luis Tejada’s shot but the parry went right to the striker’s foot. He was instrumental in both halves, holding down the fort in the first 45 and covering acres of ground to play accurate balls, especially wide left when Brad Davis entered the match after halftime
5 Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/BEL) 43/4.Spent most of the first half digging into tackles and holding down the middle, then pushed up and was unlucky to see his shot bounce off the head of a falling Roman Torres in the last minute. Started second half more assertively, as evidenced by his attempted bike in the goal area that was whistled for a foul, and his scooped pass to the left flank was one of the night’s prettiest touches.
4 Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/FRA) 23/1. Played on both sides of midfield and in the final minutes as a de facto right back, an experiment that blew up and could have cost the Americans the game. He miraculously escaped sanction when he knocked over a dribbling Quintero in the penalty area. He took a pair of good shots in the first half that were repelled and served decent crosses that weren’t utilized. Once Evans came out for Davis, he had no cover on the right side and Panama roared past him repeatedly. But his hard work continued as the Americans rallied.
6 Graham Zusi (Sporting KC) 18/3. Looked behind the pace, as did many teammates, in a disjointed first half that improved as it unfolded. He tried deking his way past Felipe Baloy near the sideline and was stopped cold. He made better decisions and reacted quicker in the second half, and will probably be posing for a statue to be erected in Mexico City’s Zocalo plaza any day now in tribute to his piledriver header that eliminated Panama.
4 Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/NOR) 14/2.Passed up shooting opportunities and seemed determined to make one pass too many in the first half. Sharper and more aggressive in the second half, he got into the flow to link up with Bedoya, Zusi and Altidore, but he seemed a tad off and was replaced in the 62nd minute.
6 Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/ENG) 64/21. Wearing the captain’s armband, he started strongly and was the best U.S. player for the first 30 minutes. His linking play with Diskerud and Bedoya created openings that no one could exploit but he battled on determinedly until being substituted for Boyd.
7 Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo) 12/0. It’s hard to believe how many chances he created in just 40-plus minutes of action. His inswinging corner kick bounced off defender Carlos Rodriguez and/or Orozco for the first equalizer and one of several excellent serves from the run of play dropped for Zusi to power home equalizer number two.
6 Aron Johannsson (AZ/NED) 4/1.With the score 1-1, he curled a shot just past the far post, then in the final seconds collected a pass from Boyd and drilled it for his first U.S. goal.
5 Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/AUT).Presented with a great chance on a Castillo cross, he mistimed his jump and failed to hit the frame. He set up Johannsson in the final seconds by collecting a long ball from Guzan and steering it to the right place.