[HEXAGONAL: Matchday 10] A game that shouldn't have meant much for the USA, which had booked its World Cup ticket more than a month ago, turned into one of the most dramatic in Concacaf history. The 3-2 win at Panama came thanks to two stoppage-time goals and saved Mexico from elimination.
Panama, aiming to reach the World Cup for the first time, needed Costa Rica to beat Mexico. The Canaleros took the lead in the 18th minute as the Americans performed tamely in the first half.
All the goals that would be scored in Costa Rica came by the 64th minute as the Ticos headed to a 2-1 win.
When Michael Orozco scored off a Brad Davis free kick -- also in the 64th minute -- Mexico was in the coveted fourth-place spot that earns a playoff with New Zealand.
But in the 83rd minute, Luis Tejada poked home a rebound from keeper Brad Guzan and the crowd at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium erupted in wild celebration.
When the clock hit 90:00, Panama was still on track with its 2-1 lead. But there was stoppage time – warranted especially because Panama keeper Jaime Penedo took awhile to recover from a knock and the prolonged celebration by the Canaleros on the track when they thought their second goal was a World Cup ticket.
Two minutes into stoppage time, left back Edgar Castillo moved smoothly past a defender, sent the ball to Davis, who chipped the perfect cross from Graham Zusi to head home to make it 2-2 and bail out Mexico, which wasn’t getting near the Ticos’ goal in San Jose.
‘BACON’ GETS HIS FIRST GOAL.Iceland product Aron Johannsson got his first start for the USA against Jamaica on Friday and squandered several chances that day, but a minute after Zusi’s goal struck a beauty from 20 yards to give the USA the win.
Johannsson was born in Alabama and moved to Iceland, the home of his parents, at age 3. In his teens, he returned to the USA to attend the IMG Academy for a year. Shortly after going back to Iceland, Johannsson moved to the Danish league, where he picked up the nickname “Bacon” because of his resemblance to the actor Kevin Bacon.
The 22-year-old’s play last season in Denmark and this season at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar prompted a call from Jurgen Klinsmann and soon after he changed his allegiance from Iceland to the USA.
After his goal against Panama he barely celebrated and went over to console one of the Panamanians. He said after the game he felt sorry for the Panamanians -- as anyone would have who saw them as their World Cup dreams were crushed. But that brilliant strike -- on top of his scoring rate at AZ Alkmaar -- should ensure his spot on the World Cup roster and capped a big day for those associated with Icelandic soccer. Iceland, the team he forsook, is one step away from playing in the World Cup after clinching a berth in the European playoffs.
SMART SUBBING. In Friday’s 2-0 win over Jamaica, Castillo and Zusi came on as second-half subs and assisted and scored, respectively. Against Panama, second-half subs again came through: Davis (two assists), Terrance Boyd (assist), Johannsson (goal).
HEROES IN MEXICO. Four years ago, the USA played Costa Rica in their final Hexagonal games after the Americans had already qualified. A late goal from Jonathan Bornstein earned the USA a 2-2 tie that sent Honduras to the World Cup and prompted Honduran president Roberto Micheletti to offer Bornstein an all-expenses-paid trip to the resort area of Islas de la Bahia.
“We’ll bring this gringuito who scored on the header,” Micheletti said. “He doesn’t need a visa to come here to Honduras.”
A couple players on this U.S. team who did Mexico such a big favor can expect to receive a nice reception when they return to their clubs: Orozco plays for Puebla and Castillo for Tijuana Xolos. Both are Mexican-Americans. Castillo even played for Mexico’s U-23 team.
Davis, however, must return to Panama next Thursday when his Houston Dynamo faces Arabe Unido in the same stadium where he destroyed Panama’s World Cup dreams in the Concacaf Champions League.
KLINSMANN MATCHES ARENA'S HEX. The win in Panama City meant the USA matched its previous best Hexagonal record, which came in 2005 under Coach Bruce Arena when it also won the final round of qualifying with 22 points.
Oct. 15 in Panama City
Panama 2, USA 3.Goals: G.Torres 18, Tejada 83; Orozco 64, Zusi 90+2, Johannsson 90+3.
Panama – Penedo, Rodriguez (Jimenez, 72), R.Torres, Baloy, Henriquez, Gomez (Chen, 72), Henriquez, Sanchez (Tejada, 78), Quintero, Perez, G.Torres.
USA – Guzan, Evans (Davis, 56), Goodson, Orozco, Castillo, Bedoya, Beckerman, Kljestan, Diskerud (Johannsson, 62), Zusi, Altidore (Boyd, 76).
Yellow card: Panama -- Tejada 84.
Referee: Courtney Campbell (Jamaica)