The Americans helped keep that scenario from happening though, pulling off a stunning rally that shook up CONCACAF, and saved their arch-rival from the unspeakable embarrassment of missing out on Brazil.
Of far more importance to Jurgen Klinsmann and his players was the determination and heart the U.S. team showed in rallying late to win a match it looked destined to lose. No, it wasn't a pretty performance, and for long stretches the Americans played badly. That doesn't change the fact that, with the match on the line and defeat staring them in the face, a group of Americans fighting to make the U.S. World Cup team came together to pull off a comeback.
It isn't the first time the U.S. has won on the road in qualifying, but it is experiences like Tuesday's when Klinsmann can see his players respond to adversity, that matter and will help mold the full U.S. World Cup team. We saw Brad Davis put his stamp on the match with a pair of assists. We saw Graham Zusi follow up his strong showing against Jamaica with a Mexico-saving header that likely earned him hero status south of the border. We also saw Aron Johannsson score the first of what should be many goals in a U.S. uniform.
There is a reason that, by the time the Americans took the field in Panama City, the U.S. lineup was missing nine starters. Klinsmann wanted to see new faces, and test them in adverse conditions. It didn’t yield a complete 90-minute display of beautiful soccer, but on a rainy night, on a hostile ground, against a team playing with the desperation of a country driving it, the USA was never going to dominate.
What the U.S. team could do was force the issue late, and push a Panama team clearly feeling the pressure of World Cup qualifying mortality. This U.S. team did what so many past U.S. teams before have done on so many previous occasions, rallying from behind and pushing opponents to the breaking point in the final minutes.
What felt different this time around was the fact that this wasn’t even the USA first team. Other than Evans and Jozy Altidore, Tuesday’s U.S. lineup was a collection of national team back-ups and hopefuls, and the fact that group was able to pull off such a dramatic comeback victory provided the latest evidence that this current U.S. team is the deepest, and arguably strongest, in history.
We will have to wait until next summer to find out if this team can really stake a claim to being the best USA squad ever, which you could argue was the 2002 team that reached the World Cup quarterfinals.
The craziest thing about Tuesday night’s victory was that it didn’t yield the sort of immediate reaction you would expect from U.S. fans. The initial reaction among USA fans was one of conflicted emotions. There was some disappointment at the fact Mexico was spared, but also some pride at seeing a young and inexperienced U.S. team go into a hostile environment against a desperate opponent and pull off a last-minute victory.
Ultimately, there are no real negatives to be drawn from beating Panama. For one, it gives the USA a new level of bragging rights on Mexico, which looked destined for a shocking exit from World Cup qualifying. The reaction in Mexico to Tuesday night's events was priceless. Mexican TV announcers sang the praises of the Americans, while also bashing the Mexican national team for lacking heart and failing to "play for the shirt." The message was clear to El Tri. Why can't you have heart and balls like the Americans?
That is just one reason why saving Mexico provides the USA with a special kind of bragging rights. There are the multiple Dos A Cero wins in Columbus, the unforgetable Dos A Cero in the 2002 World Cup, and now the night the Gringos saved Mexico in Panama.
That, coupled with a comeback for the ages, are why Tuesday night will long be the night Mexico needed saving, Panamanian hearts were broken and the USA stood tall as the undisputed king of CONCACAF.