U.S. vs. Panama: The True Takeaways

Many U.S. fans aren’t too pleased with the result in the final World Cup Qualifier, and now the wheels are falling off despite the team punching their ticket to Brazil two matches ago. Calm down! Relax. All will be fine. Though the team lost to Panama on the ro–

Wait, what? The Yanks didn’t lose, as shocking as that is from the public reaction. Conversely, the national team came back from a 2-1 deficit in the final six minutes to win 3-2, tying a CONCACAF Hexagonal record 22 points in qualifying. Since June, the team is 15-1. They are a top-15 team by whatever metric one wants to select. Admittedly, a tad hyperbolic above.

So, to paraphrase sagely Jim Harbaugh: what’s their deal?

At the same time, two qualifiers for the confederation occurred: Mexico vs. Costa Rica and Honduras vs. Jamaica. Mexico ultimately lost 2-1. Had results held at 2-1 to Panama, Mexico would have slid to fifth place in the group, dropping out of the 2014 World Cup race; Panama would then participate in the home-and-away series with New Zealand for a coveted bid.

But the U.S. stormed back, refusing to A) relent in its play and B) sketchily disallowing Mexico a spot in the Cup when it held power to do otherwise.

For the sole purpose of schadenfreude, U.S. supporters wanted Mexico to experience the World Cup from the tear-filled Estadio Azteca.

Make no mistake: Mexico advancing is the best result for the U.S. in 2014 and beyond for two primary reasons.

1) Simply, CONCACAF looks better to the world

In the past ten games, Mexico imploded. Drama cloaked the team and the overall team performance allowed jokes and jokes and jokes to be made. They cycled through a head coach, his interim and are now on the interim’s interim.

Two years ago, El Tri appeared rejuvenated and stronger than ever. After the 4-2 evisceration of the U.S. at the Gold Cup Final and placing first during the 2012 Olympics, Mexico was the confederation’s premier team. They were loaded with young talent that, in three years, would be frightening — not just for the U.S., but world juggernauts. Chatter and hype swelled that they could be the first CONCACAF squad to win the World Cup.

Oh, how the narrative has changed. A tumultuous 2-5-3 qualifying campaign will do that. Javier Hernandez and the rest of the roster didn’t coalesce as predicted. Much needs to be worked out in the next eight months should they quell New Zealand.

With all that being said, no other team in CONCACAF has the talent or cachet that Mexico does. The two teams posed to achieve the highest degree of success in the tournament are the U.S. and Mexico. It keeps a spot for the confederation in the Cup.

Plus, a stronger Mexico team makes the U.S. better — it is a constant arms race between the two.

2) The U.S. showed guts in a hostile environment

Firstly, Panama is not Azteca. But after Luis Tejada’s goal in the 84th minute, the B team should have wilted. No Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Tim Howard to help rally side. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann already pulled Jozy Altidore.

In their stead, those fighting for a seat on the Brazil-bound plane stepped up. Brad Davis, who may already be locked out, excelled, providing service on the first two goals. Dynamic striker Aron Jóhannsson, looking more and more like a competent complement to Altidore up top, recorded the winner with a cool finish outside the box. Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco Fiscal, two players often prompting fans to say not nice things, looked good in moments. Mix Diskerud, who had a rough outing, flashed creative moments that can often lack in the U.S. attack.

History almost came to Panama City. The Panamanian national team had yet to qualify for a World Cup Final. Six minutes and the U.S. stood in the way.

Though it had no outside incentive to play through the end, internal drive (probably) exerted itself. As a result, the team seized two critical opportunities, stealing the win. The match was more about the U.S. exhibiting resilience in adverse circumstances. While a team of Panama’s caliber will not legitimately challenge any team in Brazil, the game experience does wonder. Platitudes only go so far. This is something the green players can draw from and should help — if only marginally — when the real games begin next summer.

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