Zusi, Johannsson stun Panama with strikes in stoppage time, end foe's World Cup dream.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, October 15, 2013) -- Stoppage time goals by midfielder Graham Zusi and reserve striker Aron Johannsson sent the United States past Panama 3-2 in the final 2013 CONCACAF World Cup Final-Round qualifier tonight at Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City.
In the span of less than a minute, the U.S. heroics denied Panama the opportunity to gain its first World Cup berth while keeping arch-rival Mexico’s hopes alive.
The U.S. and Costa Rica had clinched their trips to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in September, but those two teams provided dramatic victories that had major impact on their opponents.
With Costa Rica defeating Mexico 2-1, Panama would have finished fourth in the hexagonal and entered a playoff against New Zealand for its first entry into the World Cup, but Zusi’s tying header dashed Panama’s hopes and Johannsson’s winner added insult to injury. Instead, Mexico staved off a national disaster – at least for now – and will face New Zealand in the two-game, aggregate-goals series
The U.S. placed first at 7-2-1 with 22 points, equaling its best final-round points total of 2005. Honduras drew 2-2 at Jamaica to earn CONCACAF”s third automatic World Cup spot.
In the 83rd minute, Luis Tejada scored to give Panama a 2-1 lead over the Americans and it needed just to hold its advantage through regulation and four minutes of extra time to move on to the playoff series. For some inexplicable reason, the Marea Roja kept pushing forward instead of pulling back into a defensive shell,
Panama lost all discipline and gave the U.S. yards of room all over the field and was quickly and cruelly punished for it.
A minute into stoppage time, U.S. defender Brad Davis brought the ball up the left side and, under almost no pressure, sent a perfect cross into the center of the penalty area where an unmarked Zusi met his header squarely for an equalizer at 2-2 in the 92nd minute.
Panama now needed a goal for its World Cup dream to continue and pushed forward even harder, needing a miracle. Less than a minute later, Johannsson picked up a touch from substitute forward Terrence Boys and drilled a low shot inside the left post past Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo for the 3-2 final.
The Americans staged their dramatic comeback with a lineup consisting entirely of reserves.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann made seven changes in his starting lineup from Friday’s 2-0 qualifying shutout of Jamaica. Only Jozy Altidore, the lone forward, and possibly Evans, would be considered normal starters.
The result was a U.S. back-line that had never played together and five normally central midfielders playing in the middle. The first goal the U.S. conceded Gabriel Torres in the 18th minute was the result of absolute disorganization in back and in the midfield. Much the same can be said for Tejada’s late strike on a rebound off keeper Brad Guzan for the brief lead.
The midfield had problems getting the ball to Altidore but the Americans were able to keep pressure on the Panamanians. The U.S. had its chances but were often denied by Penedo. Panama, meanwhile had several good shots on goal, but were turned away by Guzan.
It has to be noted that Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell kept his whistle silent all night and might have ignored several potential penalty kicks.
The World Cup draw will be held December 6 at Costa do Sauípe Resort in Mata de São João, Bahia.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 5.5: He made several good saves, but pushed a cross into Tejada’s path for the second Panama goal. He did little to organize his patched-together defense . Overall, this was just a so-so game for him.
Defender Edgar Castillo - 5: He made a goal-line clearance, but otherwise had problems. His giveaway created the first Panama goal.
Defender Michael Orozco - 6: On the plus side, he scored the opening U.S. goal. On the negative, he should have stopped the first Panama goal. He had a decent, but not outstanding night.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 6: He was very good in the air but, at times, had problems on the ground. Still, he was the best of the U.S. defenders.
Defender Brad Evans - 4.5: Maybe he was tired from playing on Friday, but he had problems with Panama’s pace and did little offensively on an off night.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 6: He probably the best of the midfielders although, at the end, he should have done better and had little to do with the late U.S. goals.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 5: He did not add much. While making several good passes, he was not overly impressive.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: He played on both the left and right side of midfield before moving to right defense. He played with energy the whole match, but he too seemed out of sync with others in the disorganized midfield.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud - 4.5: He contributed little and seemed out of place in the confused midfield. He failed to impress.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 6: He too moved from left to right. He did little on the left side and marginally more on the right, but all could be forgiven after he scored his tying tally.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 5.5: He made a terrific effort, moving all over, trying to get into position to receive the ball, but he seldom received service. He should be given credit for trying.
Midfielder Brad Davis (56th minute for Evans) - 7: He added not only energy to the midfield, but results, assisting on the first two goals. He had a sterling performance.
Forward Aron Johannsson (62nd minute for Diskerud) - 6: He came close once before scoring a nice goal for the decisive tally against a dispirited opponent. One must wonder what he might have done over 90 minutes.
Forward Terrence Boyd (76th minute for Altidore) – 5: He had little impact on the match. He was not the presence that Altidore was.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Brad Davis.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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