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