The age-old axiom that goals change games was never truer than at Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez on Tuesday night in a World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Panama.
Panama held a 2-1 lead into stoppage time, a result that would have put the hosts ahead of Mexico and through to a playoff match against New Zealand. In a matter of 76 seconds, though, the U.S. sent the Panama City crowd from pandemonium to agony, as Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson netted stoppage time goals to oust Panama 3-2, ending its chance of a World Cup berth and sending the U.S. to its best ever record in the Hexagonal Round at 7-2-1.
The match looked won by Panama and celebration erupted in the stadium when Luis Tejada gave Panama a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute. Defender Roberto Chen got the ball at the back corner of the box and crossed it toward the far post. Brad Guzan deflected the cross, but it spilled into the front of the goal and Tejada pounced for the score. The veteran striker subbed into the match just minutes earlier and scored his 37th international goal to seemingly put Panama past Mexico, who fell 2-1 to Costa Rica to open the door for an upset.
Panama looked for a third goal for insurance, but the U.S. would not lie down for Panama, even if it meant keeping archrivals Mexico alive in World Cup qualifying.
Running up the left side, second-half substitute Brad Davis whipped a ball to the center of the box where Zusi charged onto it for a header into the back of the net to equalize at 2-2 as teams were 1:24 into the three minutes of second-half stoppage time.
Just one minute and 16 seconds later, Johannsson took a pass from Terrence Boyd at the top of the box and calmly touched it to his right foot. Without a defender challenging him, the 22-year-old scored his first goal with the U.S. National Team and simultaneously put a dagger in the heart of Panamanian soccer, lifting America to a 3-2 win and eliminating Panama from any chance at reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Panama took a first-half lead on the heels of a goal from Colorado Rapids forward Gabriel Torres and Michael Orozco leveled the match at 1-1 in the 64th minute for America.
Sounders FC’s Brad Evans started at right back and was replaced in the 56th minute by Davis, who finished the match with two assists. Evans is expected to rejoin Sounders FC this week and be available for Saturday’s match against FC Dallas.
The U.S. finished on top of the CONCACAF standings, followed by Costa Rica and Honduras in second and third, putting those three through to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Mexico finished fourth and will meet New Zealand in a two-leg playoff series next month.