Mexico Keeps World Cup Hopes Alive Thanks to Massive, Last-Second Help from United States

By Mike Cardillo

Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. We won’t see a night like that in CONCACAF ever again.

Somehow Mexico still has a chance to play in the 2014 World Cup despite losing 2-1 to Costa Rica Tuesday night in the 10th and final game of qualifying.

And El Tri has its most hated rival — the United States — to thank.

Down 2-1 to Panama, the U.S. rallied for two late goals in stoppage to win 3-2. It meant Mexico finishes fourth and will play New Zealand in a two-leg World Cup playoff in mid-November. The way El Tri has played throughout 2013, beating the All Whites is hardly a sure thing.

You couldn’t have scripted what happened over the final 15 minutes at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.

I have no idea what the overall percentage is, but let’s just say a lot of U.S. soccer fans wanted Luis Tejeda’s goal for Panama late in the match to stand up. Nothing would have tasted sweeter than seeing El Tri — dubbed by some as a darkhorse to win in Brazil — sent packing. If losing to Panama meant Mexico wouldn’t qualify, it would go down as the best lost in American soccer history.

But noooooooo, Graham Zusi and Aron Jóhannsson had to score late, sending beIN sport commentator Ray Hudson into his typical happy place.

All Mexico needed to do was avoid defeat to Costa Rica and it had fourth place locked up. Alvaro Saborio’s 64th minute header put Costa Rica up 2-1 and Mexico was out, since Panama was ahead 1-0 at the time. If Panama held on to win, it would be the fourth-place team headed to the Shire in the South Pacific.

Literally 1.4 seconds later Michael Orozco — the same man who scored vs. Mexico last August in the America’s first-ever win at the Azteca — got the ball over the line to tie the score at 1-1 in the 64th minute in Panama. It meant Mexico was instantly back in position to finish fourth.

After loads of tension in both venues, it was Luis Tejada’s turn to be the hero — momentarily — for Panama. He appeared to have scored a famous goal in the 82nd second minute to give Panama another lead and put them back in fourth. Hudson called it, “a volcanic eruption all around Panama.”

For a moment on Twemtter, all U.S. soccer fans were Canaleros. 

That eruption didn’t last long.

Fittingly, the U.S. players kept playing — there’s something noble in that — and Zusi tied the score at 2-2 in the second minute of stoppage time, putting Mexico back in fourth place and crushing Panama’s spirit in the process. Say what you will about American soccer, but there is a certain never-say-die attitude at almost all times. (Expect Zusi’s name to be cursed around the streets of Panama more than Teddy Roosevelt’s going forward.)

Jóhannsson sealed the deal with his goal — his first for the U.S. — in the final minute of stoppage time to give the U.S. a 3-2 win.

The U.S., bless their hearts, simply couldn’t take it easy after Panama went back ahead 2-1. That’s why they’re playing for the National Team and we’re watching on the couch. It’s one thing for us fans to want the U.S. to lose in order to screw Mexico, but players don’t operate like that. Oh well.

Regardless, El Tri owes us one.

Amazingly this is the second straight World Cup cycle the U.S. helped a team out with a stoppage-time goal on the last day of qualifying. Back in 2009 Johnathan Bornstein’s late goal knocked out Costa Rica and gave Honduras a place in South Africa.

It’s a different sport, but on this day 25 years ago Kirk Gibson hit his famous game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. Jack Buck’s now-famous call was, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

Double that for what transpired in the madness of CONCACAF tonight.

Never has a United States victory tasted so sour.