In what might have been the most dramatic US soccer moment since this, the Americans scored two stoppage-time goals to stun Panama 3-2 in the final game of World Cup qualifying last night.
The drama, though, wasn’t concerning the US, which had already secured a World Cup berth and was fielding a lineup of mostly second-stringers trying to book their own place in Brazil 2014.
The drama involved Panama – which, before the American rally, was minutes away from an unlikely fourth-place finish in CONCACAF that would have set them up with a two-game playoff with New Zealand for a World Cup berth. And, more than anything else, it involved Mexico, which was losing 2-1 to Costa Rica at the exact same time of the US-Panama game and needed a US tie or win to avoid being passed by Panama and missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1982.
Knowing those stakes, there were plenty of American fans that would have been perfectly content seeing their favorite team lose, only because it would mean so much devastation for their Mexican rivals. The final few minutes of both games were not nearly as much fun for El Tri supporters, like the Philadelphia Union’s Mexican-born midfielder Cristhian Hernandez.
NO WAY! This cant be happening— Cristhian Hernandez (@HernandezCris23) October 16, 2013
And then, just like that, Graham Zusi scored a goal that gutted Panama, thrilled Mexico and showed how prideful this American team can be.
The jubilant Mexican announcer in the epic video above said it all when, after seeing the US goal on a split screen, exclaimed: “Gooooooal Estados Unidos! We love you! We love you forever and ever! God bless America!”
I love you USA i love you USA i love you!!!!!!!!— Cristhian Hernandez (@HernandezCris23) October 16, 2013
@amobisays nahh ill be there to thank all of you guys! Breakfast for everyone— Cristhian Hernandez (@HernandezCris23) October 16, 2013
But what do the American fans think about the Zusi goal that kept Mexico’s World Cup dream alive? We might find out when Zusi’s Sporting Kansas City team plays its next road game – which just happens to be at PPL Park on Oct. 26.
Count Union manager John Hackworth as one of the Americans who was conflicted about last night's results. At his weekly press conference today, the longest-tenured coach in Philly pro sports noted that "it was a crazy situation because I’m cheering for the US and at the same time, I’m thinking, What am I doing? Because If I’m cheering for the US, I’m cheering for Mexico too."
But the former US national team assistant coach eventually got over that feeling and was thrilled that the goal was not only scored by an MLS player but was set up by another one in Houston's Brad Davis. (He also thought Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman was the best player on the field.) And while Hackworth believes last night's results say a lot about how the fierce US-Mexico rivalry has changed, he's now prepared to cheer on Mexico in their two-game series with New Zealand.
"For a long time, people thought Mexico was untouchable and far ahead of the US," Hackworth said. "The reality is that's not the case right now. We just helped them both financially and the way they feel about themselves. It's remarkable. I'm enjoying it. At the same time, I do hope they go beat New Zealand and represent CONCACAF so we have four teams in the World Cup - and that all four teams do well."