Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Feliz Navidad

They didn't have to do all that.

Not to themselves, not to Panama and not to the millions watching with hearts torn in an infinite number of directions. But the already-qualified United States fought back with two stoppage time goals for a 3-2 World Cup qualifying finale win in Panama City's Estadio Rommel Fernandez. The result sends Panama packing and salvaged Mexico's World Cup dreams. Ones that were minutes away from extinction.

It really wasn't necessary. 

Sure, Edgar Castillo could have not given the ball away like Halloween candy in an upper-middle class suburb. The United States should have kept tighter ties between its deep midfield anchors and its creative trio, too. Michael Orozco-Fiscal headed in a 64th-minute equalizer -- he does that. 

Of course, almost simultaneously, Alvaro Saborio gave Costa Rica a 2-1 lead over Mexico.

Panama was just a goal away from the fourth spot in CONCACAF and a two-legged playoff with New Zealand. In the 84th minute, Luis Tejada sprung upon a cross Brad Guzan couldn't handle and scored that goal.

And it was a "that" goal. One that justifies tearing one's shirt off and surrendering to a mob of fans, strangers, countrymen and teammates alike in a moment that was set to live atop a nation's footballing conscience forever.

Yet the U.S. immediately pressed forward. To no end really, other than to beat a team that tried, and all but succeeded, to beat it in a game of soccer and impress an unusually calm Jurgen Klinsmann.

Those last ten minutes of needless, instinctual offensive energy from both sides reduced Tejada's history to a nine-minute forever.

The U.S. was still spraying hospital balls in midfield, retreating sheepishly at the first sign of a Panamanian dribble and otherwise showing the lack of attacking command that had Klinsmann's employment in question earlier this year.

But in what would have been the game's final minute, Brad Davis freed himself on the left end line and swung in a cross that only Graham Zusi's head could reach. Zusi nodded it past Jamie Penedo -- 2-2, no World Cup for Panama, barring the latest of winners.

A minute later, Terrence Boyd squared up Aron Johannsson atop the 18-yard box. Finding a window in Panama's two-man back line, he opened his national team scoring account, slotting into the lower-left corner of Penedo's goal.

At the ensuing kickoff, match referee Courtney Campbell blew the final whistle.

Panama should have played tighter defense in those 10 minutes. The U.S. should have developed a pair of fullbacks at some point in this cycle. Neither were on display Tuesday night.

They were all just as absent as the logic in the American comeback. FIFA rankings no longer mattered. A World Cup seed was out of the question.

It's no revelation that the U.S. men's national team is comprised of the truest of professionals. They don't dive as much as most or even take professional fouls frequently enough. But to blitz Panama in the dying moments of a dead-rubber qualifier that saves their arch-rival from worldly humiliation?

That's something else.

Then again, a team with that wobbly of a back line, such an enormous void of wingers and a fledgling striker pool shouldn't win as often as this team does anyway.

As an American soccer fan, you got what you paid for from Klinsmann -- organized chaos of the highest degree. You also got what you've known for some time -- a senseless if not unfulfillable insistence on winning.

Never mind that the midfield got streamrolled or that the outside backs who are no worse than No. 3 on Klinsmann's depth chart played hesitant, porous defense. Definitely don't forget that this is only qualifying or that the U.S. got 22 points in 2005 and that hardly helped the following summer.

But do know that you watched a team with more collective drive and honesty than most any fan, reporter, pundit or even coach is capable of.

Still, the business end of 2013 ended with the U.S. rallying from an otherwise drab performance to spare Mexico blushes. There was no need for all that. But they did it anyway.

Maybe they just wanted to win.

- Jacob Klinger


andrés said...

Estados Unidos. We love you forever and ever. God bless America.

Micah said...

Would you have been as upset if the US decided to take off for the final ten minutes, just to spite Mexico? That seems equally cruel.

Professionals play to win, not to help another team lose. Brad Davis, Graham Zusi, Aron Johansson, Terrence Boyd, Michael Orozco (all guys involved in goals) are by no means locks to go to the World Cup or actually play if they do. Are they supposed to give up a great chance to book a spot or enhance their chances?

I feel for Panama, I really do. But I'm not going to blame JK for instituting a more competitive atmosphere that led to players trying to enhance their worth in a WCQ qualifier away from home.

Depending on the draw, amongst many other things, we may end up being 2006 all over again, who knows. But asking your squad to chillax for ten minutes when they could be making a case for a spot at the World Cup is not going to get us where we want to be any faster.

Jacob Klinger said...

I wasn't asking anyone to take their foot off the pedal, only looking to underscore a bizarre night.

For the record, I'm not upset. It would've been funny in a lot of ways to see Mexico miss out, but I'm certainly not criticizing what truly was a valiant effort.

Nick said...

Was it me or was Panama completely reckless after they got the second. Looked like they wanted the third just as badly as the second.

Awesome to get that done. I, personally, like Mexico limping in to the playoff.

jon said...

Micah, did you read the same post as the rest of us? I interpreted the paragraph breaks ("They didn't have to do all that." "It really wasn't necessary." "Maybe they just wanted to win.") as more of a literary device to tell the story within the story, not to suggest the US was supposed to play weakly to help Panama. If anything Jacob's post suggests he is disappointed in how poorly the US played and surprised (but not really surprised) that they were able to pull it off.

Jacob Klinger said...

@nick I'm still trying to figure that out. Maybe Panama was trying to account for a Mexico equalizer, but I really don't know. My notes are filled with expletives and punctuation marks.

@jon Bingo. Puts a smile on my face to see us talking about literary devices here.

Jacob Klinger said...

@nick I'm still trying to figure that out. Maybe Panama was trying to account for a Mexico equalizer, but I really don't know. My notes are filled with expletives and punctuation marks.

@jon Bingo. Puts a smile on my face to see us talking about literary devices here.

Jason Wintz said...

I felt bad for Panama, in the sense that I almost always root for the underdog and I enjoy seeing new countries make it to the World Cup. As much as I enjoy hating Mexico in soccer, I did want Mexico to make it to the World Cup because I think it is better for CONCACAF. Remember, the number of places we get at each World Cup Finals is dependent on how well each continent has done in the past, and I have a hard time imagining Panama getting to the round of 16 while Mexico usually does (and yes I know right now it looks like Mexico could still blow qualification over New Zealand).

Overall, though, I think last night was a great night for football; for integrity in football. There have been so many scandals lately. There is so much corruption. So it was nice to see, at least in the Americas, that Chile and Ecuador did not conspire to tie and guarantee qualification. And it was nice to see the US not decide, "oh well, we tried but Panama got the go-ahead goal. Let's just finish this game out and go home."

Did anyone notice the reaction of Panama's #2 after the equalizer? He walks over towards Brad Davis with his hands stretched out and says something, probably along the lines of "Why did you do that to us? Everything was fine for both of us."

dikranovich said...

I have a hard time telling panamas #1 from their #2.

Steven Streff said...

@Jacob But Panama could do nothing about a Mexican equalizer. Scoring 100 goals wouldn't have changed a thing, which made their abandonment of defense with the lead in stoppage time perplexing.

Surely they should have realized that the US wasn't going to pour forward looking for a goal to draw like they would in normal circumstances considering they didn't need a goal or a result. In Panama had packed it in after their goal, I think they win the game.

Jacob Klinger said...

@Steven Yeah, you're absolutely right. I really have no idea and I will be wondering for some time.

Panama did have eight guys behind the ball at times, but it was hardly two bands of four or anything so organized - just some guys that hadn't trudged upfield.

@dikranovich Is that a bathroom joke?

Desert Rat said...

I was damn proud of the way what was basically our B Team fought for a victory, and fought for places. I'm very impressed that Klinsmann actually got these guys fired up for what could have easily been branded a "meaningless" game.

As much as it wouldn't bother me if it had worked out with Mexico getting eliminated (which considering Mexico's total inability to execute in the final third might still happen if they blow it in the Azteca), I'm proud of the way the US team plays.

It was true before Klinsmann, and it will be true after Klinsmann. The US team doesn't do a whole lot of diving (even when it might benefit them), and has even less quit in them. Frankly, these elements of the national character are a big reason the team has come as far as they have in the last quarter century. They're darn good qualities to have.

WonderKin said...

Another game another team attacking the right side.

John said...

@WonderKin: Lighten up!