Panama shattered its dreams of making its first World Cup appearance when it surrendered a 2-1 lead to the USA in the last seven minutes of its last World Cup qualifier last Tuesday night in Panama City. The 3-2 loss seemed to cast a pall over the Rommel Fernandez Stadium as the World Cup hopes and dreams of the over 40,000 plus spectators and millions in Panama vanished in a mere seven minutes.
Panama went into the game needing a win and a Mexico loss in Costa Rica to get the fourth-place spot in CONCACAF to go into a two-game play-off against New Zealand for a trip to Brazil next summer. Panama seemed almost there since Mexico was on its way to an eventual 2-1 loss in Costa Rica with only three minutes to play and substitute Luis Tejada had just put Panama ahead of the USA, 2-1, in the 83rd minute. The Stadium erupted and the benches cleared when Tejada scored after U.S. goal keeper Brad Guzan failed to hold on to a Robert Chen cross. There was just over seven minutes to play and dreams of Brazil and Panama’s first World Cup appearance swirled in the atmosphere.
But those dreams are now on hold! Panama, like many Caribbean teams, lacked the ultimate work ethic and determination necessary for a champion. Instead of battling to the end, it languished, while the already World Cup-bound U. S., which was down and out, never stopped fighting. Therein lay the difference in the teams!
Panama seemed to just settle for being ahead. The home team showed much urgency at the outset, playing well and moving the ball to score a stunning goal from the foot of Gabriel Torres after an excellent build up; not long after, the Panamanians seemed to take their foot off the peddle and began to slow the game down instead of pouring on more of the intensity that got them the good start. This attitude allowed the U.S. to get back on top of the game, which transferred to the second half. Panama, at the start of the second period, surrendered possession to the U.S., which was a mistake.
Panama didn’t learn its lesson of only three days earlier, when it fought hard to equalize, 1-1, in Mexico, then sat on the ball instead of keeping it moving; it eventually loss possession at midfield, which lead to Mexico’s second goal and a 2-1 victory.
The U.S.’s second goal to tie the game at 2-2 came from a Graham Zusi header from a Brad Davis cross in the second minute of stoppage time, and Aron Johannsson’s winner came a minute later when two Panamanian defenders stood and watched the American line up a shot that squeezed inside the left upright. Earlier, Michael Orozco, one of seven changes in the USA lineup, scored to tie the game at 1-1. In the other qualifier, Honduras and Jamaica played to a 2-2 draw in Kingston.
So the once ‘mighty’ Mexico lost but, despite only two wins in 10 qualifiers, managed to qualify for the play-off against New Zealand on November 15 and 19 for a trip to Brazil. Mexico’s plight reflects the changing tides in CONCACAF, which was once a two-horse race for the top spot. There is much parity in CONCACAF now; no longer are qualifying for the World Cup and Gold Cup tittles are a given for the U.S. and Mexico.
The top three teams automatically qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as the USA (7-2-1, 22 pts.) won the final group, Costa Rica (5-2-3, 18 pts.) was second, Honduras (4-3-3, 15 pts.) third, Mexico (2-3-5, 11 pts) fourth, Panama (1-3-5, 8 pts.) fifth and Jamaica (0-5-5, 5 pts.) sixth.
HISTORY IN BRONX LEAGUE
Antiguan soccer club, South Stars, created history in the Bronx New York International Soccer League (BNYISL) this past summer when it defeated Havoc FC, 3-1, in the Final to become the first non-Jamaican club to win the title in the 37-year-old league. The final was played on Sunday, Sept. 15, at Starlight Park at 174th Street and Sheridan Parkway in the Central Bronx.
Havoc played unbeaten throughout the season and defeated defending champion Arantes, 5-0 in the semifinals, while South Stars beat Caribbean United, 4-3, in the other semifinal. In the championship game, Keith Thomas and Grayson “Bubbler” Gregory gave South Stars a 2-0 lead at halftime; Havoc pulled a goal back, but Gregory scored from a breakaway late in the contest to restore South Stars’ two-goal lead.
It was good to see a non-Jamaican team win the league, said BNYISL President Ivor Samuels, who also stated that non-Jamaican teams have played in the league, though sporadically, since the early 1980s. Samuels said he has always tried, over the years, to convince teams from other Caribbean islands to play in the predominantly Jamaican league, which until this past summer, played its games at Evander Child’s High School off Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. The BNYISL will hold its presentation of awards during a dinner and dance on Saturday, Oct. 19, at Somerset Hall on Bronx Blvd. (237th Street)
In limited MLS games last weekend, the New England Revolution beat the Montreal Impact, 1-0, and the Portland Timbers defeated the Seattle Sounders by the same score. The Chicago Fire topped FC Dallas, 3-2; and DC United and Philadelphia Union played to a 1-1 draw.