A trio of matches in the final night of regional qualifying kicked off simultaneously in Panama City, Panama, in Kingston, Jamaica and in San Jose Costa Rica:
It all started at 9:30 p.m. ET … but it didn’t really start until Panama’s Gabriel Torres (who plays in MLS for the Colorado Rapids) curled a real beauty past U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan. And the night was on!
The rain has died down, but a front of heavy beer showers came through after Torres put that one in the bottom corner. #PANvUSA— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) October 16, 2013
And then it was Costa Rica’s turn, as things got worse and worse for Mexico. Remember, this was the sum of all awfulness for Mexico … El Tri trailed while Panama led, which meant Mexico out of the World Cup.
Whelp ... At this moment, no El Tri for Brazil. Long way to go ... But how unreal is all this?— Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90) October 16, 2013
Goal Costa Rica. It's going all wrong for Mexico.— Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) October 16, 2013
AMERICANS. LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS. LET THEM PASS THROUGH THE CANAL.— Will Parchman (@WillParchman) October 16, 2013
and now Mexico are really in deep trouble— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) October 16, 2013
But Mexico lives! Oribe Peralta bangs one off the underside of the crossbar. It’s Costa Rica 1, Mexico 1 … which means Mexico has the fourth spot and the playoff, for the time being, at least.
And just like that, Mexico responds with an equalizer, Oribe Peralta with the goal. 1-1.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) October 16, 2013
Slowly the news makes it's way around Rommel Fernandez that Mexico equalized. Still hope here, though. #PANvUSA— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) October 16, 2013
The Mexicans are in it … but their fallen hero, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, is having a Costa Rican nightmare. In fact, his whole final round of World Cup qualifying has been one big bag of nothing.
Doesn't seem like long ago when Mexicans' answer to everything was "But we have Chicharito." Now? It's "Chicha-quien?".— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) October 16, 2013
And lest we forget about Los Catrachos, who needed only a draw in Jamaica to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup: Maynor Figueroa has scored to put his team ahead of the home team, 2-1. This is getting fun, eh?
Honduras up 2-1 in Jamaica and getting their Brazil on.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) October 16, 2013
Let's be real: CONCACAF is tons of fun, even if virtuosity levels r not what they should be. If it's a backwater, it's OUR backwater, dammit— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) October 16, 2013
Now it’s halftime at all three spots. The United States is missing six or seven starters, but the backups should be holding up a little better against Panama, the side with all the motivation. Credit to Panama, though. And at least the United States looks better than Mexico … which looks absolutely nothing like a team that deserves to be in the World Cup.
Some classy stuff from los Canaleros today. Keeping possession, setting the tempo, making the U.S. chase. | Panama 1-0 U.S. | HT— Liviu Bird (@liviubird) October 16, 2013
Pulsating half in San Jose. Mexico settled well after nervous start. Good combinations in midfield. Chicharito wasteful. Defense uncertain.— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) October 16, 2013
If Mexico qualifies for the World Cup it is despite Chicharito's play, not because of it. What an atrocious qualifying campaign.— Avi Creditor (@AviCreditor) October 16, 2013
Thing is, the real craziness is just getting started. Rafa Marquez tries to stomp his way into the World Cup — only a Costa Rican player happens to be on the bottom of this stomping shenanigan. It’s another ridiculous moment from a guy whose career is full of them.
Rafa gonna Rafa.— Shawn Francis (@TheOffsideRules) October 16, 2013
Not long after, Chicharito answers the growing Chicharito question: he gets a yellow card for a little dust-up off the ball inside Costa Rica’s penalty area:
Chicharito suspended on yellows for 1st leg vs New Zealand--might be addition by subtraction at this point.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) October 16, 2013
Holy Cow! Michael Orozco scores a goal for the United States down in Costa Rica. He’s the same guy that scored a goal last year when the United States beat Mexico at Azteca Stadium, a historic win for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team.
USA Orozco goal......the man who defeated Mexico last year!— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) October 16, 2013
Crowd has no idea what to do right now. Orozco scores to even match and Costa Rica goes 2-1 up in San Jose. It's a glass bowl of emotions.— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) October 16, 2013
This hex is getting CRAZY. Costa Rica puts Mexico out of the World Cup, but Azteca conquerer Orozco Fiscal puts em right back in. #WHAAAT— Avi Creditor (@AviCreditor) October 16, 2013
It would be “Advantage, Mexico.” But almost simultaneously, Real Salt Lake and Costa Rican goal-getter Alvaro Saborio gets free inside the penalty area, heading past a helpless Mexican goalkeeper. And who was waaaay out of position?
Rafa Marquez was closer to Red Bull Arena than to goal scorer Alvaro Saborio, who he should have been marking. Oh, Rafa— Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90) October 16, 2013
That's what you get with Rafa in your team Mexico. #cleanitup— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) October 16, 2013
And THIS, is why the final matches are played simultaneously. Nothing else like this in sport. The final matchday.— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) October 16, 2013
So … uh … wait … who is in the World Cup from our CONCACAF region at this point? … It’s the United States and, uh … so confusing … Can Canada still get in?
Thing is, the madness is just getting started.
I'M FREAKING OUT AND WHO NEEDS PANTS AT A TIME LIKE THIS— Will Parchman (@WillParchman) October 16, 2013
Greatest night in CONCACAF history— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 16, 2013
Seriously, at this point Mexico trails to a Costa Rican team with nothing really to play for (having already qualified). And yet, it’s Mexico and not Panama in that fourth-place playoff. SI.com’s Grant Wahl has a good idea (just as we get a little goal-mouth action in San Jose):
Is it OK if Guzan turns and kicks the ball into his own net in the 90th minute?— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) October 16, 2013
Keilor Navas with a helluva save for Costa Rica ... but what does it matter? There will be so much craziness to come, who will remember it?— Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90) October 16, 2013
Oh, for the accountants out there, don’t forget about the massive financial implications. Meanwhile, the rest of us are just conflicted:
Estimated $600 million economic loss if Mexico doesn't qualify for #Brasil2014— Scott Fenwick (@OnTheFire97) October 16, 2013
If Panama scores do we celebrate? Are we sad? My emotions are engaged in an epic van Damme vs. Arnold flex fest. WHO WINS.— Will Parchman (@WillParchman) October 16, 2013
Or, are we? Conflicted, that is. More and more, people are suggesting that Mexico doesn’t deserve further World Cup opportunity. After all, Costa Rica looks far more likely to score a third goal than Mexico does to getting an equalizer.
Mexico is better off not going to the World Cup, time to accept it. #MEXvsCRC— #MMLP2 (@dopejulio) October 16, 2013
And then “it” happened. Luis Tejada scores for Panama, which leads the United States, 2-1. So at this point, with about 15 minutes remaining, the CONCACAF automatic qualifiers are the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras, with Panama in position for fourth-place and that playoff against New Zealand. Yes, it is stretching the realms of belief.
Is this real life?— Jonathan Kaplan (@happykappy7) October 16, 2013
The dramz. #CONCACAFfeinated— Shawn Francis (@TheOffsideRules) October 16, 2013
Twitter has officially gone nuclear. Hola, Panama. Adios, Mexico. #Brasil2014— Scott Fenwick (@OnTheFire97) October 16, 2013
Who doesn’t love them some Andres Cantor, who is alerting Mexico-Costa Rica viewers of the critical happenings in Panama City with an unmistakable urgency:
"AtenciÃ³n, atenciÃ³n, atenciÃ³n!" Andres Cantor says as he delivers the news of Panama's goal.— Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) October 16, 2013
And did we mention we love these simultaneous kickoffs for final day. We’re looking at you, Major League Soccer. Make this thing happen! It’s better than ketchup on french fries, sweeter than Vermont maple, more outstanding than … well, you get the idea:
More simultaneous start times, please. In soccer. In life. In morning coffee ... whatever— Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90) October 16, 2013
So it looks like … wait … WHAT? Graham Zusi shatters Panamanian hearts. The home team was riding out a 2-1 win, dreaming the World Cup dream, minding its own doggone business when Zusi puts Mexico back into play in the World Cup.
Heartbreak for Panama. And Graham Zusi better get himself a disguise...— Terri Leigh (@TerriLeighTV) October 16, 2013
GRAHAM ZUSI!! The KING of Mexico right now. The KING of Mexico.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) October 16, 2013
Oh, my heart just dropped for Panama... I'm not sure what was happening but I think I was rooting for them for the last 20 mins— Jason Saghini (@JasonSaghini) October 16, 2013
Don’t forget, that home-and-away series with Mexico is going to make a whole bunch of TV money here in the United States. Soccer United Marketing, attached to MLS, owns the U.S. rights for Mexico matches.
Brad Davis and Graham Zusi just saved a TRUCKLOAD of money for SUM / MLS / et al.— Jonathan Yardley (@jtyardley) October 16, 2013
It’s still sinking in, even as Aron Johannsson scores another goal for the United States to make the final out of Panama 3-2. But that goal doesn’t really matter for World Cup places. It was Zusi’s tying goal that changed fortunes, setting up this theater of the bizarre, this day the United States kept Mexico alive in a World Cup.
De nada, Mexico.— Greg Lalas (@Gaetjens) October 16, 2013
Well said, sir.
As for the rest of us, the emotions are pouring forth as we all contemplate the best night in CONCACAF qualifying history, the night a bunch of soccer folks fell hopelessly in love. We’ll always have 15-October.
Good lord.... Who needs a drink?— Terri Leigh (@TerriLeighTV) October 16, 2013
Queridos mexicanos ... la persona a que tendran que amar para siempre se llama graham zusi y le pueden mandar un mensaje a @gzusi— Monica Gonzalez (@MonicaGonzo) October 16, 2013
Graham Zusi & Brad Davis named US ambassadors to Mexico.— Matthew Doyle (@MLS_Analyst) October 16, 2013
Gotta feel for Panama, can't blame their effort or valiant coaching by Valdes.— Alex Labidou (@LabidouESPN) October 16, 2013
How about free Mexican vacations for all the U.S. players?— Ridge Mahoney (@ridgemax) October 16, 2013
Every hexagonal has its amazing stories but considering Mex was minutes from elimination, this may top the chart.— Ridge Mahoney (@ridgemax) October 16, 2013
There really was so, so much more to it all. But that gives you an idea, at least.
We’ll let these two have the last words on a memorable, surreal night:
When I said CONCACAF's two-year marathon could come down to the final seconds, I had no idea... #PANvUSA— Phil Schoen (@PhilSchoen) October 16, 2013