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Team USA Beats Panama at the Last Minute

And does Mexico a favor

By Michael Sanchez [ Thu Oct 17 2013 5:00 PM ]

On Tuesday night, the US Men's National Soccer team won a game—which wasn't a surprise—but the overall results of the night had an odd side effect: With a win in the match, against Panama by a score of 3-2, the United States helped their greatest regional rival, Mexico, retain hope that they'd qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

For a long bit in the game, it didn't look as though the US—already securely qualified for the World Cup—would pull out the victory. Panama scored in the 18th minute, securing a lead for themselves that would last the vast majority of the game.

When the Americans finally came back with an equalizer—Michael Orozco in the 64th minute with a sweet header off the vaunted set piece of the corner kick—it felt like the tide had shifted a bit. But Team USA was never able to fully capitalize and Panama continued to push the game in their direction. What seemed like the final blow came in minute 83, as Luis Tejada put in a ball that had been deflected by American goalkeeper Brad Guzan in superior fashion, which the US defense was too slow to effectively clear. Tejada ran off the field, tore off his shirt—and the country of Panama celebrated. This seemed to most observers to do two things: vault Panama into the World Cup matches and knock Mexico out, as they'd lost to Costa Rica earlier in the evening.

But Jurgen Klinsmann teams have been taught to continue fighting. The Americans did precisely that, despite sitting some of their more established stars for whatever reason. (Whether the Americans were sandbagging the game or not does not seem truly important.) With three minutes of stoppage time added to the clock, Team USA was down 1-2 and, somehow, improbably, the Americans scored twice in that time span to send Panama into a tail spin and Mexico into a fevered frenzy, their chances still alive.

Graham Zusi absolutely nailed a header off one of the sweetest crosses in the 92nd minute and the game morphed into something else. Mere moments later, Aron Johannsson demolished the hopes of Panama with a bullet of a shot. Johannsson's goal resulted in the game's conclusion less than a minute later, no hopes of extra time, no hopes of future games—at least not for Panama.

With the victory, the US Men's National Team racked up a record-tying 22 points in the qualifying stages and added some mojo back to their current streak. Earlier in the year, the Americans possessed the then-longest winning streak in the world—13 games—and the team will surely remember this game as a fantastic example of not folding when they could have easily done so. Team USA's next match will be an international friendly in Scotland on Nov. 15.